20 April 2006

15 trials collapsed by witness intimidation

Daily Ireland

by Ciarán Barnes

Intimidation of witnesses has led to the collapse of more than a dozen crown court trials in the North during the last six months.
Between September 2005 and February 2006, a total of 15 trials, an average of one per week, broke down after key witnesses failed to show on the day.
The figures, released by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, have led to calls for stiffer jail terms for those found guilty of intimidation.
SDLP assembly member John Dallat said it was “extremely frustrating” to see so many cases collapse.
“Greater attention needs to be put on dealing with people involved in intimidation, especially of witnesses,” said the East Derry MLA.
“They are effectively undermining the essence of democracy and deserve lengthy prison sentences. Unfortunately, it seems that in this part of the world intimidation is a fact of life.”
Last summer, it emerged that a woman with key information about the 2003 murder of west Belfast loyalist Alan ‘Bucky’ McCullough was offered £10,000 to keep her mouth shut. She later withdrew statements she had made to the PSNI linking senior Ulster Defence Association (UDA) figures to the killing.
Following the December 2004 Northern Bank robbery, the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA) finance union claimed bank employees caught up in terrifying armed raids were afraid to testify because of intimidation from criminal gangs.
At the beginning of 2004, extortion charges against a leading south Belfast loyalist were dropped following Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) intimidation of ethnic minorities in the area. The star witness in the trial was a Chinese businessman who later fled Ireland.
The same month relatives of pub doorman Trevor Gowdy, who was badly beaten by a UVF gang in December 2002, had their home in Limavady, Co Derry, pipe bombed.
The attack was viewed as an attempt to discourage Mr Gowdy from taking the stand.
In 2003, a PSNI detective told an inquest into the murder of Co Antrim man William Cairns that “fear and intimidation” prevented witnesses giving evidence against the gang who beat and shot him.

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