CPS apologise to tyre-slash victims after blunder leads to case being dropped

Paul Hartley with his wife's damaged car the morning after the vandal attacks
Paul Hartley with his wife's damaged car the morning after the vandal attacks
  • Victims told case cannot be reopened
  • Crown Prosecution Service apologise for miscommunication that led to case being dropped
  • People offered £80 as a goodwill-gesture
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VICTIMS of a tyre-slashing spree have been given an apology by the Crown Prosecution Service for botching the case – and leading it being dropped.

Residents of Festing Road and Salisbury Road, in Southsea, woke up one December morning last year to find their car tyres had been slashed.

You can’t prosecute the same man because you can only put a case up once. Even if there’s fresh evidence, with the exception of serious offences such as murder

Steve Hoolohan, deputy chief crown prosecutor

Khalsa Singh, of Salisbury Road, Southsea, was arrested and taken to court accused of damaging 23 cars.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On the day of his trial at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court victims heard the case was going to be dropped after the CPS said it had no evidence to offer.

The CPS has revealed miscommunication between the prosecution barrister and a reviewing lawyer led to the case being dropped – and it now cannot be reopened.

In a letter written to the victims it was also revealed CCTV evidence submitted had not been watched fully.

Last night a meeting was held between victims and Steve Hoolohan, deputy chief crown prosecutor, for the CPS.

He said: ‘The decision to offer no evidence was clearly the wrong one and was as a consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding between the prosecuting agent that CPS Wessex had instructed and our reviewing lawyer.

‘This misunderstanding was over the CCTV footage, which was the main evidence in the case.’

Mr Hoolohan went on to say: ‘At the meeting we offered them a goodwill payment of £80 to recognise the fact they will no longer be able to seek compensation from the court should it have found the defendant responsible.’

He added that offering the money did not mean the CPS presumed Mr Singh was guilty, nor that the victims would have been awarded compensation.

He said it was only to recognise that the CPS’s errors meant the case could not be heard in court, which was wrong.

Victims asked if the case could be reopened, but Mr Hoolohan said: ‘You can’t prosecute the same man because you can only put a case up once.

‘Even if there’s fresh evidence, with the exception of serious offences such as murder. If there’s further evidence that someone else was responsible, then yes we can charge that person and bring them before the courts.’

Alison Kerridge-McColl, of Festing Road, whose car was damaged, said: ‘I want to know what will happen to the people who have clearly not done their jobs properly – I think they should be held to account. I think we are talking about a criminal act.

‘I also expected more from the CPS, you wouldn’t imagine them to have miscommunication like this.

‘We want the police and Portsmouth City Council to act and put in CCTV as we fear for our safety. What if next time there’s injury to a person?’

Letter to residents

I am writing to provide you with a more comprehensive explanation of the outcome in this case.

I am the district crown prosecutor with responsibilty for cases prosecuted in Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court and I have made extensive enquiries with those involved with the case in order to provide you with as much detail as possible.

The police sent us a file in relation to the allegation of criminal damage to 23 separate cars by the defendant Mr Singh.

The file was initially reviewed by a Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer who decided there was sufficient evidence against Mr Singh to give a realistic prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to prosecute the case.

At the first hearing Mr Singh pleaded not guilty to all charges and the case was sent down for trial.

At the trial, the prosecuting lawyer was a barrister who was acting as an agent and is not an employee of the CPS.

When the agent watched the CCTV footage before the trial, they only viewed it briefly.

The agent’s main concern was that there was no statement producing the CCTV as evidence and the defence were now objecting to it being played.

The agent formed the view that as a result there was insufficient evidence to prove the case against Mr Singh and asked a CPS lawyer for authority to offer no evidence and invite the court to dismiss the charges.

As a result of their discussion there appears to have been a misunderstanding between the agent and the CPS lawyer.

The CPS lawyer then gave authority to drop the case.

I have now reviewed the file and watched the relevant CCTV footage. It is clear that... the decision to drop the case was clearly wrong.

The absence of a statement was not fatal to our case and at worst should have given rise to an adjournment to rectify a technical matter that had not been put in issue when the case was listed for trial and all matters of contention were discussed in court.

I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the way the case was handled and the obvious error in stopping a case where the evidence was there to see and should have been put before a court.

As the case has been concluded there is sadly nothing that can be done to rectify this and it cannot be brought back to court.

Once again I am sorry that the level of service you received did not meet the standard the CPS would expect and that you clearly deserved.

I am aware of the distress and inconvenience that was caused to all those whose cars had been damaged and I can assure you that the CPS views these crimes very seriously. I regret that we failed to deliver justice for you and the wider community on this occasion.

Huw Morgan, district crown prosecutor

Residents disappointed with no-show police and MP

VICTIMS of the vandalism said they were disappointed that officials did not attend the meeting.

Paul Hartley, of Festing Road, Southsea, said: ‘Flick Drummond was invited via Facebook and we did not get a response. We also asked the police to attend, but didn’t.

‘We got a response from police crime commissioner Simon Hayes saying he could not attend – we find that very disappointing.’

Ms Drummond said she did not see the Facebook invitation and encouraged people to contact her via telephone and email.

She added she will discuss the issue with Mr Hayes and the police at meetings she has arranged with them.