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Judge calls system 'dysfunctional' as £350k heroin trial is adjourned

Criminal cases in Northern Ireland are being held up by failures in processing forensic work on time, a High Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Weir described some of the current arrangements as "dysfunctional" and suggested police should send work to England if the situation can't be improved.

He delivered his assessment after being told forensic evidence remains outstanding in a case involving the seizure of heroin valued at up to £350,000.

Kevin Gerard McKenna was arrested after the drugs were found in a suitcase in a Newry hotel room last August.

The 33-year-old, of Lower Culmore, Foxford, Co Mayo, is charged with being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.

His barrister told a bail hearing that no forensic evidence has been produced to link a car he was allegedly driving, to the hotel room where a co-accused was said to have been.

She argued that McKenna has been in custody for nearly a year, and claimed proceedings could be further delayed due to outstanding forensic material.

Mr Justice Weir, who heard the application, commented: "So many of these cases are delayed by the failure to get on with timely examination of these items."

Pointing to the availability of forensic science facilities in England, he said: "I don't know why we persist in trying to get this Northern Ireland facility to perform for us."

The judge said he was not prepared to grant bail due to concerns about McKenna's ties with Northern Ireland.

He ruled that the application should be adjourned until after a planned preliminary enquiry hearing next month. "Sooner or later the police are going to have to get the people at the forensic laboratory under control," the judge said.

"If they can't do that they are going to have to send the work to England."

The judge added that the current situation delays prosecutions and is unfair to everyone involved, including the accused.

Belfast Telegraph