The acting Director of the Public Prosecution Service said he regrets any heartache caused to the family of Thomas Devlin by the initial decision not to prosecute the 15-year-old’s killers amid growing calls for a complete overhaul of Northern Ireland’s prosecution system.
The Devlin family have said their grief was “compounded” by how the PPS dealt with the case.
The service originally ruled there was no available evidence sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction against Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown, but finally relented following demands from the Devlin family.
When asked by the Belfast Telegraph whether he would like to apologise to the family, PPS acting director Jim Scholes said: “One perfectly understands the Devlin family have been through a very difficult time.
“Nobody could fail to be moved by what they had to say. We regret anything that has led to further distress to the Devlin family.
“We hope that the successful outcome of the case that we brought will prove to be some consolation to them.”
Mr Scholes also said he is “completely comfortable” with the test code used by the PPS when making a decision on whether or not to prosecute a suspected criminal.
However, politicians and members of the legal profession have called for an urgent review of the system used by the PPS and for explanations of what went wrong in the Devlin case.
Belfast solicitor Joe Rice of John J Rice & Co said he believes there are “deficiencies and weaknesses in the code test”.
He added: “How they arrived at a decision so substantially different to decisions arrived at by their counterparts in England (the Crown Prosecution Service), I don’t know. We are not sure where the system here falls down but the PPS must review this.
“As a lawyer I fail to understand what has happened here. An immediate review of the workings and systems within the PPS must be carried out without delay and an immediate apology issued to the Devlin family.”
SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness, a barrister, has called
for a “complete overhaul” of the PPS in light of their handling of the Devlin case.
He said: “There is need now to examine how the PPS comes to its decisions in relation to serious criminal prosecutions.
“There needs to be an explanation of what happened in this case and a new system must be put in place that is transparent to the public.
“It is timely that on the eve of the transfer of policing and justice powers that the PPS has come under focus and there is an opportunity for the Assembly to look in depth at its operations.”
North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he was deeply concerned about the Devlin family’s experience with the PPS.
“I am sad and appalled by what has happened. Obviously the PPS is an independent body, but this has raised serious issues for the public and the public need to be reassured that there is no question that criminal suspects are being actively pursued.”
The Devlin family have said that the case against Thomas’ killers only came to trial because of the pressure they put on the PPS to change the original decision.
Thomas’ mother Penny Holloway said that the family’s grief had been compounded by the “spectacular, public and abysmally abject failure of the PPS to properly carry out its functions in this case”.
She added: “We have been fully vindicated in our belief that the original decision of the PPS not to charge Taylor and Brown was wrong.”