A review of public prosecutors handled three cases linked to an alleged rape and IRA cover-up following claims by Belfast woman Mairia Cahill has found they were “let down”.
The PPS has apologised to three women who accused an IRA member of abusing them as children for “shortfalls” in the handling of their case.
Speaking after the report was published Mairia Cahill said she was “let down by the PPS from the word go”.
Sir Keir Starmer QC, the former director of public prosecutions in England and Wales, was asked to investigate three connected cases involving sex abuse and terrorist-related charges following claims by Belfast woman Mairia Cahill.
However the review stated there was no “improper motivation”.
As a result of the report, PPS director Barra McGrory QC apologised after Sir Keir found that his office and prosecuting counsel had let the women down.
Ms Cahill (33), a grand-niece of prominent republican Joe Cahill, said as a teenager in 1997 she was raped by an IRA member.
Ms Cahill also claims that the police and PPS failed to properly investigate her allegations and was highly critical of the four-year time frame to get to court.
Ms Cahill waived her right to anonymity.
The alleged abuse happened between 1997 and 2000 when all the women were children and later made statements to police.
The review found that there were “shortfalls” in the service provided by particular team members and Counsel.
The attempted prosecution never got to trial because the three women withdrew their evidence.
Sir Keir said the errors made it “almost inevitable” that the women would pull out of the process.
These mainly involve individual failures around strategic planning; management of the cases and in the communication and consultation with victims and witnesses.
The review into the three interlinked cases involving sex abuse and terrorist-related charges found “no improper motivation” in the decisions or actions taken by the team involved and that they were concerned to fulfill their professional duties.
Following publication of the report, PPS director Barra McGrory QC said: “I commissioned this independent review so that all concerns could be openly and objectively explored.
“I commend Sir Keir for the rigour of his approach and accept without reservation all of his recommendations.
“I take very seriously the failings identified particularly in the quality and timeliness of the decision-making at key points by senior members of this prosecution team.
“I want to take this opportunity to express as Director of Public Prosecutions a sincere apology to the three victims in these cases.
“It is clear that our service to them fell far short of the standard that they – and indeed the PPS – would expect.
“And I also want to say, to them and all other victims of sex abuse offences, that I am committed to ensuring that what happened in these cases will not be allowed to happen again.”
Reflecting on the key recommendations of the report, the Director said they were “difficult and complicated” cases and said he has put in place a “programme of changes”.
This includes bringing forward plans to make a new centralised unit of senior prosecutors that will have a single focus on such serious prosecutions operational in a number of months.
He said: “I commissioned this review to ensure both the identification of issues in the handling and the prosecution of these cases and also any recommendations for improvement. This was to ensure that our service is consistently of the highest quality.
“Acknowledging the recommendations, I have already put in place a programme of changes to ensure compliance with the high standards we expect in the prosecution of all cases.
“This includes new requirements on the deployment of case management strategies; consultations with victims and witnesses and improved service level agreements with Counsel, all of which will be supported by intensive training for relevant staff.
“I also consider that these cases have demonstrated the importance of a formalised strategic case management approach. This acknowledges that while such practices exist informally, a new system is required to ensure a consistency of approach.
“I have also decided to bring forward plans for a new centralised unit of senior prosecutors that will have a single focus on such serious prosecutions. I intend that this unit will be fully operational in a number of months.”
He added: “I hope that our actions in commissioning a robust review and in our swift and determined response to its recommendations will assure the victims in these cases, and the wider public, that the PPS is committed to providing a high quality prosecutorial service to everyone in Northern Ireland.”
However, the review has prompted calls for the DPP to consider his position.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “It is quite shocking that Sir Keir Starmer should find so many faults within the PPS, from basic administrative procedures, through to a lack of strategic thinking and direction from the senior management. Most disappointing of all is the identified failures in terms of the PPS’s communications with Maíria. Once again we see an organ of state lacking the empathy it should demonstrate to those it serves, especially vulnerable victims.
“It is highly regrettable that the system has once again failed the victim. The buck stops with Barra McGrory and he should consider his position. It is simply not acceptable to try to wash his hands, Pontius Pilate like, by claiming the case was opened before he took office or that he was not directly involved.
“He is a very well paid leader whose organisation has failed a victim who has taken terrible abuse for having the courage to publicly take on the IRA, without the support she deserved from the PPS.
“It is now essential that the Police Ombudsman publishes his review into the conduct of the police in this matter, so Maíria has the full picture of institutional failure and we understand the work required if we are to restore victims` confidence in our ability to properly protect them.”