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Criminal Offences (Non-Prosecution)

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 22 January 1975

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asked the Lord Advocate under what circumstances his office instructs procurators fiscal not to proceed with a prosecution for a criminal offence; and why his office instructed the procurator fiscal at Glasgow not to proceed in the case of vandals concerned in the fatal accident which caused the death of engine driver Joseph Conroy.

There are various reasons for instructions by Crown counsel not to proceed with a prosecution. For example, the facts disclosed may not constitute a crime. Alternatively, the evidence may not be sufficient to warrant a conviction. In the case to which my hon. Friend refers, the evidence available to the Crown was considered to be insufficient to warrant a conviction.

I have great sympathy for my right hon. and learned Friend in the making of such decisions, but does he realise that his decision here will cause considerable anger among railway men, and, among the police, frustration and discouragement in their constant battle against vandals? Having been caught, arrested and charged, the miscreants were set free without trial. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into the procedures in his Department?

I appreciate the feelings of frustration which must have been generated in the quarters to which my hon. Friend refers, but one has to look at this matter in a wider setting. In this case it was felt that if a decision against taking proceedings had not been made before the fatal accident inquiry, the boys, on being advised that they need not answer any questions tending to incriminate them, would have said nothing. Equally, had a prosecution been taken, on the view that there might have been enough evidence, the chances are that the boys would have said nothing, or would have given evidence very different from what they said at the fatal accident inquiry.

Matters of this kind are always difficult, as I am sure my hon. Friend appreciates, but, to my mind, in this case the overriding public interest was to determine the true facts, which, as my hon. Friend implies, were shocking. I think that it was right to have the facts fully exposed so that the public could be alerted to the fatal dangers involved in mindless vandalism, the best safeguard against which is a vigilant public.