PPS blunder puts innocent woman back in the dock
A woman cleared of shoplifting was mistakenly summoned back to court after a blunder by the Public Prosecution Service.
The Co Tyrone woman was acquitted last year of stealing a ring worth £20, but the PPS wrongly recorded that she had been given a caution.
Earlier this year the PPS wrote to the woman accusing her of failing to turn up to receive the caution, and telling her the original charge was being reinstated.
After two further court hearings, the case was eventually withdrawn at Dungannon Magistrates Court earlier this week.
The PPS has launched a review into the blunder, which has been blamed on human error. It has also apologised to the woman, who asked not to be named.
Her solicitor John Fox, from Fox & Stewart Solicitors in Cookstown, said the matter caused his client great distress.
“Obviously it came as quite a surprise to my client to receive correspondence from the PPS advising her that she was required to attend court again,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“This has rekindled all of the very negative feelings that she experienced the first time round and has been quite a distressing episode. It was a matter which should never have arisen, and the disposal of the case last year should have been properly noted by the PPS.
“I will be looking further into this matter to determine who was at fault, how much this cost and why a pragmatic approach was not adopted.”
A spokesman for the PPS said it was initially agreed to give the woman an adult caution, but his agreement was later withdrawn.
The case was listed for hearing and the accused was acquitted by the judge.
“Unfortunately, and due to human error, when notification was received that the caution had not been administrated, the proceedings were reissued,” he said.
“These proceedings should not have been reissued and the PPS apologises to the individual concerned for the distress caused.
“When the error was recognised the prosecutor involved personally telephoned the individual and explained the situation and apologised to her.” He said the woman was informed that the case would be withdrawn, and she was not required to attend court.
“The PPS will undertake a review to determine what steps are necessary to ensure this situation does not recur,” he added.
MLA Maurice Morrow, who has vowed to pursue the matter with the Department of Justice, said: “I entirely reject any notion that this case could not have been sorted without putting this woman through the mill. The needless anxiety suffered by the woman formerly accused, plus the costs to bring a case back to court after information was wrongly recorded along with defence, must be closely examined.”