The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has defended a decision to drop murder charges against two teenagers accused of killing west Belfast greengrocer Harry Holland stating the decision was based on a “legal principle” not “plea bargaining”.
The PPS issued a statement explaining the decision in response to criticism from the Hollands.
This week the 65-year-old’s wife and daughters launched a scathing attack after two teenagers, who were originally charged with murder, pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Patrick James Stephen Crossan (18) from Willowbank Gardens in west Belfast admitted causing an affray and possession of an offensive weapon — a knife.
A 17-year-old girl, who cannot be named because of her age, pleaded guilty to affray and another charge of common assault.
However she entered a plea of not guilty to a count of occasioning actual bodily harm.
Earlier this week Stephen McKee (18) from Ballymurphy Road pleaded guilty to murdering the west Belfast father-of-four.
The PPS said in cases such as murder defendants may be charged with the same offence “on the basis of a legal principle known as ‘joint enterprise’ even though they did not, in fact, inflict any blow or admit their involvement”.
“Their liability for murder will depend upon the strength of the evidence which establishes whether they realised that the person who inflicted the fatal blow might kill or intentionally inflict serious injury. Not everyone present at the scene of a killing is necessarily guilty of murder.”
It also said the expression “plea bargaining” was the wrong word to use to describe the process and rejected any suggestion that it offered to accept the lesser charges in exchange for a guilty plea.
But Mr Holland’s daughter Sarah said: “It’s the fact that they (the PPS) shied away from prosecuting them, they shied away from using the full rigours of their powers — that is what upsets us.
“Ultimately, for us, justice really hasn’t been done.”