Prosecutors under pressure

The north’s most senior prosecutor is under pressure to quit after being forced to review a controversial decision by the Robert Hamill inquiry.

Alasdair Fraser, the director of the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS), agreed to reconsider a decision not to prosecute a retired RUC officer for perjury in connection with the Hamill murder case.

Robert Atkinson was one of four RUC members in a police vehicle which looked on during the loyalist mob attack which resulted in the death of Mr Hamill, a Catholic father-of-three, in Portadown in April 1997.

Atkinson was subsequently investigated over an allegation that he tipped off a suspect to dispose of clothes he was wearing on the night of the attack. A charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice was brought but was withdrawn in 2004.

On Friday, inquiry chairman Edwin Jowilt asked the PPS to “urgently reconsider” the decision and less than an hour later the PPS announced it had agreed to reconsider it.

The Hamill family welcomed the review but called on the PPS to deal with the case as “a matter of urgency”.

SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly said that a “root and branch” review of the entire PPS was now needed.

“The latest stinging criticism of the PPS in relation to its handling of the Hamill case comes on top of a string of other poor declstons,” she said.

Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd accused the PPS of having “failed” the Hamill family.

“The Hamill family have time and again been let down by the very authorities who were supposed to be rasked with delivering jusuce,” he said.

A PPS spokeswoman said it would now seek any further information from the inquiry to help inform its review.

It is the latest case in which the PPS has been publicly criticised for failures in high-profile murder trials. Recent years have also seen a number of prosecutions of republicans -- launched for apparently political purposes -- collapse dramatically for lack of evidence.

Earlier this month the parents of Belfast teenager Thomas Devl!n publicly criticised the service for initially refusing to charge two men with their son’s sectarian murder.

Following a high-profile campaign by the Devlins, the PPS overturned its decision not to prosecute and the pair were subsequently convicted of murder earlier this month.

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