Coroner 'powerless' to help family
A coroner has told the family of a pensioner who died after an assault that he is powerless to address their concerns about the prosecution of his killer.
During an inquest in Belfast, Northern Ireland's senior coroner, John Leckey, heard the brother of Jim Heasley heavily criticise the police and Public Prosecution Service's (PPS) handling of the criminal case.
The 70-year-old retired plumber died of brain injuries in hospital almost two weeks after being found unconscious on a pavement close to his home in Lisburn in October 2010. The police originally treated the incident as a fall, only realising he had been assaulted a week later.
Earlier this year, Jackie Allen, of Ravarnet Gardens, Lisburn, was sentenced to six years in jail after admitting manslaughter. The two men had been involved in an earlier argument at a local pigeon club. Allen, 48, had originally been charged with murder but during his trial admitted to the lesser charge. He was sentenced to six years - three of which were to be spent in prison.
A complaint made by the pensioner's brother David to the Police Ombudsman was upheld, prompting the PSNI to discipline a number of officers and apologise to the family for the initial handling of the case.
Mr Heasley, who described the sentence handed to Allen as "trivial and too lenient", has also been critical of the PPS's conduct of the trial and has demanded an explanation of why a lesser charge was accepted. He detailed his concerns to Mr Leckey during today's inquest into his brother's death at Mays Chambers Coroner's Court.
"For me and the rest of the family he's been let down from start to finish," Mr Heasley said of his brother.
Mr Leckey acknowledged the feelings of the family but said he was not able to act on their concerns. "I'm sorry you do feel aggrieved but a coroner is not in a position to provide a solution to grievances arising out of the administration of the criminal justice system," he said.
The coroner said the matters were the preserve of the PPS and ultimately the attorney general John Larkin. "You probably will leave this inquest feeling disappointed," he said.
"Quite often I come across families who come away from criminal proceedings feeling their loved ones did not get justice, and I know you feel that way. But I am a coroner and I can do nothing about it."