The Public Prosecution Service has been heavily criticised after a procedural error led to a man charged with murder walking from court.
It also emerged that the case was delayed after a police van transporting the accused was turned away and sent to another court before having to turn around and come back.
Paul Patrick Walsh (33), from Laurelbank in Dunmurry, eventually appeared before Lisburn Magistrates Court yesterday charged with murdering Damien Duffy on Belfast’s Stewartstown Road on May 20, 2001. Mr Duffy (18) died a fortnight later.
However, the court heard that Walsh had already been charged with Mr Duffy’s murder. That charge was left on the books.
A defence solicitor told the court that it was not the right procedure to bring the case back to court because the original murder charge is still live.
A representative of the PPS added: “My instructions are this is for the Crown Court to determine whether this matter should be reactivated.”
Two hours after he appeared in the dock, Walsh walked from the court after the PPS withdrew the charge against him.
A PPS representative told the court that the case was unprecedented.
He said: “The case would appear to be without precedent and there are no procedural rules that cover this. It would be the intention of the PPS to bring this matter to the Crown Court on a date in the near future.”
Responding to criticism from the Assembly’s justice committee, a spokeswoman for the PPS later said an error had been made.
A spokeswoman said: “These are very rare circumstances and an error was clearly made by the PPS as to the appropriate venue to recommence these proceedings.
“This was carried out without any prejudice to the case.”
However, DUP MLA and former barrister Peter Weir questioned whether the handling of the case highlighted “systemic problems within the PPS”.
Yesterday, a PPS spokeswoman said: “To suggest that this is evidence of systematic problems within the PPS would be a counsel of perfection.”
Damien Duffy (18) was stabbed after a nightclub row on Belfast’s Stewartstown Road in May 2001. The teenager died a fortnight later. Police reopened the investigation into the murder earlier this month. A detective sergeant said he believed Paul Patrick Walsh was part of a gang which confronted Duffy and his friends. It is alleged that Walsh (33), from Laurelbank in Dunmurry, stabbed Duffy. But the 33-year-old walked free yesterday as he had already been charged with Duffy’s murder, a charge which was left on the books.