Belfast Telegraph

Anger at price of justice as killer McClenaghan finally admits guilt at third trial

 

By Cate McCurry

The court costs of the Fred McClenaghan murder trial, two retrials and appeals will top £800,000, it has been claimed.

Co Londonderry man McClenaghan faced three murder trials before he finally admitted his guilt and was jailed for life for the cold-blooded shotgun murder of his former lover, 51 year-old Marion Millican.

The mother-of-four was blasted in the chest at point-blank range by McClenaghan, who went to the Portstewart laundrette where she worked on March 11, 2011.

McClenaghan, from Magherafelt, had continuously denied the murder. However, in a dramatic turn of events yesterday, the 55 year-old pleaded guilty to the charge.

He was previously convicted of murder twice - but both convictions were quashed on appeal and McClenaghan faced his third trial this month.

The cost of the first two trials and subsequent appeals was more than £600,000, although that figure does not include the latest trial.

McClenaghan's legal aid bill formed more than £330,000 of that.

One of the trials collapsed after three jurors went out for chips during a lunch break, costing the taxpayer £60,000.

Speaking about the final court costs, former DUP MLA Lord Morrow, who raised the case in the Assembly, said: "I would imagine this case would be pushing close to the £1m mark.

"If it does not reach that amount the final cost will certainly reach between £800,000 to £900,000.

"The actions of McClenaghan mean that the combined cases and appeals have taken literally years and compounded the trauma of the relatives of Mrs Millican.

"Two juries found this man guilty of murder at trial and retrial, yet both were appealed and the verdicts set aside. Then part way through the third trial, McClenaghan finally admits murder as opposed to manslaughter, which was the prosecution case from the outset.

"Mercifully, this finally brings to an end the horrendous ordeal having to be repeatedly endured by the victim's family, who not only suffered the loss of a loved one but had to sit silently and tolerate repeated hearings and re-hearings.

"The pain they have suffered has been cruelly compounded, not only by McClenaghan's self-indulgent denials in an attempt to evoke public sympathy, but also by a justice system which places victims at the lowest end of the spectrum. Their hurt is insurmountable.

"While public money is spent on such a case, there appears to be an unending spiral in which perpetrators can seek to distort and disrupt procedure.

"The end cost of legal aid in this case, which was twice proved to have a baseless defence yet overturned on appeal, will be staggering.

"It's time justice was victim focused, not offender dictated."

Yesterday, Belfast Crown Court was to hear further evidence regarding the circumstances following the shooting, but this did not happen.

After lunch, in the dramatic turnaround, defence QC John McCrudden applied to Mr Justice Coulton for the murder charge to be put to McClenaghan again.

Mr McCrudden, in thanking the judge and jury of seven women and three men, said that in a case of "great complexity" matters had to be dealt with and "as a result of the time afforded to us I have been instructed by my client to have him re-arraigned on the charge of murder".

McClenaghan, who until yesterday claimed that the killing of Mrs Millican was an accident committed as he botched his own suicide, replied in a quiet voice, "guilty" when the murder charge was read to him again.

Mr Justice Coulton told the accused: "You have pleaded guilty to the offence of murder and that being so the only sentence I can impose on you by law is life imprisonment."

The judge added that next month he will hold a tariff hearing to determine how long he must serve before he is considered for release.

McClenaghan was twice convicted and jailed for life with a tariff of 16 years being fixed, both of which were subsequently overturned on appeal and which until yesterday could not be reported.

During each of his trials, McClenaghan maintained he accidentally shot Mrs Millican while intending to kill himself in front of her, but the prosecution has always insisted that what happened was no "accident .... this was a case, simply, of murder."

Paul Givan, DUP MLA for Lagan Valley, said: "This case highlights the costs the taxpaying public is footing in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland."

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