Witness withdrawal sees case fail
Prosecutors have defended their handling of a collapsed case against two republicans accused of IRA membership.
Sean Hughes and Padraic Wilson were acquitted of the charges facing them at Belfast Crown Court today after the Public Prosecution Service offered no evidence.
The case collapsed after key prosecution witnesses withdrew their evidence at a late stage.
Mr Hughes, 53, of Aghadavoyle Road, Jonesborough, near Newry, and Mr Wilson, 55, of Hamill Park, Andersonstown in west Belfast, were accused of IRA membership and of addressing meetings to encourage support for the proscribed organisation.
The alleged offences took place in 2005. Both men had pleaded not guilty.
In an unusual step, the Public Prosecution Service issued a statement offering an explanation for the failed prosecution.
"We have had a series of meetings with the principal witnesses in this case, including in the weeks leading up to this court date," said a PPS spokeswoman.
"One witness expressed concerns in relation to a decision not to prosecute in a related case and also the selection of charges in this case.
"We sought to address these concerns by outlining the rationale for the prosecution decisions, although we were restricted in what we could properly discuss with a witness in ongoing proceedings. This restriction was fully explained and an offer was made to provide more detailed reasons once the proceedings had concluded.
"In selecting the charges in this case, we applied the test for prosecution to the available evidence. We are satisfied that the test for prosecution was met in respect of the offences charged but not in respect of other offences to which consideration was given.
"This case was ready to proceed to full trial on 8 June 2015 and has not been subject to any undue delay in the preparation of the prosecution case.
"In these circumstances it is disappointing that the witnesses have withdrawn, but we respect their decision to do so.
"Now that the proceedings have concluded, we are able to fulfil our commitment to the witnesses to provide further information, which we hope will meet their concerns."