Serious questions have been raised about the functioning of the North’s prosecution service following the collapse of criminal proceedings brought on behalf of two West Belfast women who were allegedly sexually abused when they were young teenagers by Marty Morris, the IRA member at the centre of the Mairia Cahill abuse scandal.
The women were aged thirteen and fourteen at the time the alleged abuse began.
The two women, who at this stage do not want their names revealed, claim that Morris had subjected them to sexual abuse over a three year period between 1997 and 2000. They complained formally to the PSNI in early 2011, Morris was returned for trial in July 2011 but proceedings were delayed repeatedly and then indefinitely adjourned by the North’s prosecution service to facilitate Morris’ trial on IRA membership charges.
Like Mairia Cahill’s case, the PSNI and prosecution service decided that before the two women’s criminal complaint concerning sexual abuse could be dealt with Morris should face the IRA charge. The collapse of that case persuaded Mairia Cahill to withdraw from the abuse case against Morris while in the case of the two West Belfast women, they withdrew after an unsatisfactory meeting with the prosecution service.
The women’s lawyers, Joe Mulholland Solicitors, said in a statement issued last week:
We failed to comprehend the paramountcy the PPS gave to the membership case as opposed to the case involving the alleged sexual abuse of children, which far exceeds the test for prosecution and was prepared and ready for trial.
In December 2012 the lawyers asked for a meeting with the prosecution service:
…..following representations sent from our office to Barry McGrory QC highlighting our grave concerns, the PPS agreed to meet with our clients. We attended this meeting with the PSNI Investigating Officer, Prosecution Directing Officer, Prosecution Counsel and the Deputy Director of the PPS. There was a frank exchange of views. The PPS directing officer accepted that ‘they could have dealt with the case better’ and their junior barrister conceded that ‘the best way forward would be to have the abuse case dealt with first’. Our clients’ again stressed to the PPS that their statements were furnished solely with the view of prosecuting their abuser and they would have absolutely no involvement in any other emanating proceedings.
Unfortunately no progress was made and therefore our clients’ reluctantly withdrew their statements against their perpetrator; however felt it appropriate in the circumstances. They had lost all faith and trust in the criminal justice system and believed they were being exploited, merely for political point scoring. The impact of the horrendous abuse(d) our clients’ sustained continues daily. The sensationalism of this case continues to re-trauma our clients who want to move on with their lives in privacy. They have asked that their privacy and the privacy of their family be respected.
A number of questions leap out from the exchange between the women’s lawyers and the prosecution service: if the prosecution lawyers involved in this case had reservations about the way it was being handled who then decided to give precedence to the IRA membership charge against Morris, given that its collapse was the trigger that ended the sexual abuse trials? Was there political interference in the decision-making process? And what role did Barra McGrory, appointed Director of the Public Prosecution Service in 2011, play in the affair?
So far Mr McGrory’s previous role as Gerry Adams’ lawyer has so far not figured in the scandal but that position may not be sustainable the deeper the prosecution service gets embroiled in this affair.