North's DPP apologises to Mairia Cahill after mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse
The North’s Prosecution Service failed in its handling of a number of cases involving alleged sexual abuse and subsequent IRA cover-ups, a damning report today reveals.
The report found that three victims, including Belfast woman Mairia Cahill, were “let down” by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) after they made allegations of sexual abuse against suspected IRA member Martin Morris.
All three complainants were children at the time of the alleged abuse.
The report, released in full this afternoon, found “shortfalls in the service” provided to Ms Cahill and two other victims whose identities are protected. The two other victims are referred to in the report as ‘AA’ and ‘BB’, while Ms Cahill is named because she waived her right to anonymity.
These shortfalls mainly involve individual failures around strategic planning, management of the cases and in the communication and consultation with victims and witnesses.
Read more: Rape victim Mairia Cahill meets gardai
While the report found that there was no “improper motivation” on the part of the prosecution service, it found that all of the victims were let down.
Significantly, Sir Starmer’s report found that the failings by the Prosecution Service prompted Ms Cahill and the other two victims to withdraw their allegations causing their respective trials to collapse.
“Given the significant failings in this case, it was almost inevitable that first AA and BB and then MC would pull out of the process. Each of them was prepared to support their allegations at the outset, but as their cases became increasingly weakened and delayed, their willingness to continue understandably diminished,” the report states.
Reacting to the finds, the North’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC apologised to the three victims.
“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,” Mr McGrory said.
“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.”
The report stems from an independent review carried out by Sir Keir Starmer, a senior British human rights lawyer and politician.
Sir Starmer was requested last year to examine the handling by the North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) of a number of cases involving alleged sexual abuse and rape, as well as claims of an IRA cover-up.
The cases reviewed by Sir Starmer involve Belfast woman Mairia Cahill and two other victims whose identities have been protected.
Ms Cahill shot to prominence last year after she told the BBC Spotlight programme of her alleged rape at the hands of suspected IRA member Martin Morris.
The young mother claimed she was raped by Morris as a teenager and that her allegations were subsequently subjected to an IRA ‘kangaroo court’ before being covered up.
Three separate trials later collapsed after Ms Cahill and the two other victims withdrew their allegations.
Ms Cahill claimed that one of her reasons for withdrawing the allegations was due to the fact that it took more than four years for her case to come before the court.
Just months after Ms Cahill went public with her ordeal, Sir Starmer was appointed to examine the conduct of the Prosecution Service.
He was not requested to examine the investigations conducted by the PSNI.
The report also made 10 separate recommendations based on its findings.
They include recommendations that:
•The PPS should introduce policy and/or guidance to improve case planning and strategic thinking in difficult and complicated cases:
• A flagging system for difficult and complicated cases should be introduced to highlight risks and ensure proper lines of accountability to senior management
•When deviating from usual management structures, senior team members should take the lead in defining roles clearly;
•The PPS should clearer instructions for prosecuting counsel;
•Measures should be introduced to improve the recording of decisions and consultations by the PPS and counsel;
•All PPS staff and counsel working on rape and serious sexual abuse cases should be required to undergo training on the PPS Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Rape;
•Between six and 12 months from the date of this Report, the
DPP should commission a review of the implementation of these recommendations.
The report also states that the PPS have said that a number of changes have already been made or agreed over the past year.
The report authors said they “welcome these steps” but added it remains a matter for the DPP to review the existing changes and satisfy himself as to whether they meet, in whole or in part, any of our recommendations, and to determine what further action is required.
Mairia Cahill said the Stammer Report vindicates her and called on Sinn Fein members who questioned her credibility to apologise.
She said leading members of Sinn Fein “need to look at the report in detail”.
“I think if those people had any amount of graciousness about them they would apologise at this point. I think that’s hugely important to give other victims confidence to come forward and report sex abuse,” she told Newstalk.
She conceded it is unlikely she will have justice and her abuser will not face criminal prosecution.
Ms Cahill said she still finds it extremely difficult to live with the abuse and the IRA inquiry that followed allegations she made against a senior republican.
She urged other victims to come forward and break their silence.