No excuse for shoddy police work
The public relies on the police to maintain law and order in an exemplary manner, and it is therefore disturbing to find out that a significant number of crime suspects will go free because some PSNI officers did not submit their paperwork to the prosecutors on time.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show that in the past 20 months, as many as 157 cases have been statute barred. This means that a case cannot be processed because the file was not forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service within six months.
Some of the cases, now lost, involved violent attacks, serious driving offences and anti- social crimes. This is a shocking lack of responsibility among certain officers. The worst area for such failures was District F, which includes Cookstown, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Omagh and Fermanagh. The police admit this is a "disproportionately high volume of cases" and a spokesperson claims that this failure was partly because certain files had not been submitted correctly after the introduction of a new database.
This is a lame excuse. In today's world the use of new technology is intended to make things simpler and not more difficult, and the PSNI's excuse that some of its people could not work the system would be laughable, if it was not so serious.
It may well have been that a number of people facing prosecution would have had their cases quashed by a court that had full access to all the evidence.
Equally, however, it is certain that a proportion of people would have been found guilty, and it is difficult for the victims of such crimes, and their families, to accept that the perpetrators will go free because of simple administrative errors.
No doubt a number of leading questions will be asked at the next Policing Board meeting, and rightly so.
The police have many challenges to face, including serious crimes like murder, armed robbery and rape, but that is no excuse for failing to deal properly with other crimes.
The PSNI must ensure that this kind of basic error does not take place again.
The public has a right to know that they can rely on the police to deal with crime in a proper, professional manner, without falling down on the simple duty of completing their paperwork on time.