Belfast Telegraph

Mum who fled home with disabled daughter after campaign of intimidation 'has case against PSNI', court hears

BY ALAN ERWIN

A mother intimidated out of her home after giving evidence in a criminal trial today won the first round in her High Court challenge to being denied an emergency house sale.

Frances Doherty was granted leave to seek a judicial review of a refusal by PSNI chiefs to certify her for the Scheme for Purchase of Evacuated Dwellings (SPED).

The SPED scheme allows the authorities to buy houses of people who have been intimidated.

Claiming the decision was unreasonable and breaches her human rights, her lawyers cited five incidents of intimidation since she testified against a man subsequently convicted of an attack on a neighbour's daughter.

Mr Justice Treacy was told the campaign against her and the neighbour has also spread to comments posted on Facebook.

Her barrister, Gordon Anthony, said: "Some of the threats are particularly serious about driving over individuals and continuing to drive over them."

Ms Doherty and her disabled daughter quit their north Belfast home in 2011 and moved into rented accommodation.

By that stage she had appeared as a prosecution witness in the case of an unnamed defendant.

However, she is not eligible for the Housing Executive's SPED scheme of buying homes from those forced to flee.

To qualify the PSNI has to issue a Chief Constable's Certificate that there was a risk of serious injury or death.

Mr Anthony contended that five incidents of increasing severity rendered the stance taken as wrong.

He told the court ball bearings had been thrown at his client's house, a car damaged, threats issued on two separate occasions, and windows smashed.

Community Restorative Justice representatives were said to have confirmed Ms Doherty was suffering distress and anxiety due to the campaign.

"This is an individual who gave evidence on behalf of the state and feels the state has somewhat dropped her as a result of the intimidation," Mr Anthony added.

Peter Coll, for the PSNI, confirmed the refusal to issue a certificate was maintained following a review carried out at Assistant Chief Constable level.

"Police have to be satisfied it's unsafe for applicants or members of their households to continue to live in a house and, if so, that it's because of a direct or specific threat or intimidation," he said.

With no further explanation at this stage for the decision taken, Mr Justice Treacy ruled that Ms Doherty had established an arguable case against the PSNI.

He refused to grant leave in a secondary case taken against the Housing Executive, pointing out that police were the primary target of the legal challenge.

The case will now proceed to a full hearing in October.

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