Belfast Telegraph

Baggott in prosecution costs vow

The high cost of pursuing the supergrass case must not prevent similar prosecutions in future, Chief Constable Matt Baggott has insisted.

The murder trial of the men charged on the testimony of brothers and self-confessed UVF members Ian and Robert Stewart was one of the most expensive in the history of Northern Ireland, with the bill estimated to top £10 million.

"I think it's right to look at the cost," Mr Baggott told members of the Policing Board at its monthly meeting in Belfast. "But you know something, I wouldn't want to live in a system where when someone walks into a police station ... and our legal duty is then to pursue the process, then we say 'oh awfully sorry, it's far too expensive'.

"The offences we are investigating are the most serious - murder, blackmail, robbery, deep oppression of communities over many years and we do it through the justice system.

"So I don't believe you should start with criteria around cost. It's absolutely right to see if you could do it more efficiently, but if we did it in that way (on basis of cost) we would be in a bad place."

With 14 senior barristers and 13 junior counsel representing the legal aid-supported defendants during the five month trial, along with the bill for the Crown's one senior counsel and two juniors, and police and judicial costs, well-placed legal sources have estimated that the final bill could be £10 million.

Mr Baggott said it was important to make clear that the case did not collapse - the men accused of the murder of UDA chief Tommy English were just found not guilty.

"That's a significant difference," he said. "That's the way the system works, the police take their statements and provide witness accounts, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) make the decisions, that's their role within legislation, and then the whole integrity of witness evidence gets thoroughly tested through cross examination in due process. That's called a judicial process in a democracy."

The chief constable said the PPS made the right choices.

"Because something ends up with a non guilty plea doesn't mean to say it was wrong," he said. He added: "If we didn't allow courts to test the evidence we would be in a totalitarian society and we're not."

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