BUNGLING PSNI cops botched up identification evidence which led to a murder charge suspect walking free on assault and motoring offences.
And the Keystone Cops took an earbashing from a magistrate who told them: Don’t let it happen again. Learn your lesson.
The courtroom dressing down went all the way to the top of the PSNI who were forced to apologise to the court and promise never to let it happen again.
The embarrassing Keystone Cops incident unfolded in Ards Magistrates Court in front of District Judge Mark Hamill.
The case listed for hearing was against farmer and murder charged suspect Jimmy Seales who faced five criminal charges.
Seales is in custody charged with the shotgun murder of Philip Strickland who was blasted to death in his car outside Comber last January.
The 55-year-old defendant, of Hillsborough’s Ballykeel Road, was due to contest five separate criminal charges.
He has been accused of assaulting Brian Law, driving a lorry without a licence, driving a lorry without insurance, failing to report an accident and careless driving on May 7, 2009.
However, all of the charges were dramatically dismissed after the prosecution said they couldn’t offer any evidence.
Immediately, District Judge Mark Hamill blamed police failures for allowing the case to fall apart.
Seales was in the dock with his arm in a sling and his hand heavily bandaged.
During a previous court hearing in August, a court was told that police suspected Seales ‘manufactured’ an incident in which injuries were inflicted to his hands while in custody in a bid to get medical treatment.
At the time it was claimed that CCTV evidence showed the farmer lifting a drain cover and putting his hand inside before two other inmates slammed the cover down in a crushing action.
But the charges were suddenly dropped after lengthy discussions between a Public Prosecution Service lawyer and the farmer’s defence team in the judge’s chambers.
When Seales was led into the dock by prison warders, the PPS lawyer said that the prosecution was offering no evidence and the charges against the farmer were formally dismissed.
District Judge Mark Hamill told the court: “The police have a lesson to learn here.
“This case turned on identification evidence.
“When a case turns on identification evidence there is a process to be followed and when the police don’t follow it there is a brick wall at the end of the road that they will not go past.”
In response the PSNI said: “The police will consider the comments made by Judge Hamill about aspects of a police investigation that led him to dismiss a case relating to assault and motoring offences.
“We want to reassure the public and the judiciary that steps will be taken to ensure that we learn the lessons identified as a result of this case.
“The PSNI is firmly committed to investigating crime to the highest standards and making sure victims get the justice they deserve.
“We are very aware that in building confidence in policing it is vital that we deliver a professional criminal justice system.
“The PSNI will continue to work tirelessly to tackle crime and protect those in need.”
It is unclear if the PSNI will take any disciplinary action over the collapse of the case.