Belfast Telegraph

Accused not guilty of OAP's murder as judge halts trial over key witness's evidence

BY CATHERINE McCURRY

Questions have been raised over the prosecution's decision to use a witness whose evidence was "inconsistent" after a man accused of murdering Coleraine man Norman Moffatt walked free.

Mr Moffatt was attacked as he was walking home along the Railway Road area of Coleraine after buying a newspaper in January 2001. He was stabbed once in the stomach and died in hospital two months later on March 19.

James Alexander McCook (43), from Stonemill Terrace in Stockport but originally from Northern Ireland, was arrested in Cheshire last year charged with his murder.

In a dramatic turn of events the jury of six men and six women were instructed by the judge to find Mr McCook not guilty.

The trial centred around key witness Martha Brown who the judge said was crucial to the case.

During an earlier hearing Ms Brown said she'd known Mr McCook since he was a teenager when he was fostered in her parents house.

She said she bumped into Mr McCook at a pub in January 2006 and then went on to a party at her cousin's house.

It was there that he was alleged to have told Ms Brown he had murdered the pensioner. She claimed that after his confession she attacked him with a bottle.

Yesterday, three weeks into the trial, the judge highlighted a number of issues with Ms Brown's evidence, saying there were a considerable amount of inconsistencies on important matters.

In his ruling, the judge said it was bewildering to the court how anyone could stand over those inconsistencies.

He added it was not unusal for a witness in a long trial to have a few inconsistencies but that Ms Brown's evidence was too unreliable to continue with the case.

Judge Desmond Marrinan told the court: "In court cases, and this is one of them, the judge having considered all the evidence of the prosecution has a duty if asked, and I have been asked, to decide whether there is sufficient and consistent evidence to place before you.

"The key evidence is Ms Brown's and I have acceded by the application made to me by the defence Mr Harvey to effectively stop the trial and withdraw, as the evidence was so inconsistent to allow the trial to go any further on the issue that it would not be right to continue the matter. The prosecution have the right to appeal.

"I decided that you (the jury) should find him not guilty for the reasons I have just mentioned.

"I want to thank you and say I am grateful you could be here.

"I will discharge you of jury service for seven years."

Addressing the defendant, he said: "You have been aquitted by the jury on my direction."

In response Mr McCook said: "Thank you, your honour."

Outside court, Mr McCook said only: "Justice has been done. I have nothing else to say."

Jim Wells, a DUP MLA who sits on the Assembly's justice committee, said the case had been extremely shaky from the outset.

"It looked like a difficult case to sustain after hearing the evidence and that's what stuck with me," he said.

"The prosecution and police had known that was her testimony and yet still continued with the trial. Maybe they felt that evidence from other witnesses would be sufficient enough, but that wasn't the case."

Mr Moffatt's son Barry and daughter Norma were not in court to hear the verdict.

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