Judge warns murder charges could be thrown out of court

A judge has warned murder charges could be thrown out of court for what a defence lawyer branded “appalling” delays by prosecutors.

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 4:31 pm

Details emerged at Antrim Magistrates Court, sitting in Ballymena on Tuesday, regarding Samuel Hugh John Atcheson (34), of Crebilly Road in Ballymena and Stephen Hunter (31), of Lanntara in the town, who are charged with murdering Donald Fraser-Rennie in Ballymena in September 2020.

Atcheson appeared at court via video link from prison where he has been on remand.

The case was previously listed for September 14 - for a Preliminary Enquiry - the legal step to send a case to the Crown Court.

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A prosecutor said a statement “from a doctor” has still to be received by her department.

A detective constable said the doctor’s statement had been provided to the PPS “and our stance is that there is nothing outstanding at this stage”.

The prosecution lawyer said they needed to receive the statement “electronically” and it might be “stuck somewhere”.

The lawyer said when received, all the case papers would need to be finalised for the Preliminary Enquiry.

She said the PPS officer in the case was asking for a further adjournment of four weeks.

A defence barrister for Atcheson said the PPS delays were “appalling” and said this was now the third PE date which may not be met “due to the prosecution being unable to put the file together”.

He said a further four-week delay was “completely unacceptable” and said the stage had been reached where perhaps the court had to issue a “warning” to the PPS.

The lawyer said he appreciated the case was serious and “complicated” but meanwhile the defendant was in custody and “his hopes have been dashed time after time in terms of getting this commital on”.

A defence lawyer for the other defendant said Hunter has been “left to languish in a prison cell without having sight of any of the evidence in the case”.

District Judge Nigel Broderick said he was vacating the PE date of September 14 but, on that date, was going to fix a new date for a Preliminary Enquiry when he would issue a ‘McAleenan Warning’.

He added: “So when I fix the PE the case must proceed and if it doesn’t then the prisoners will be discharged”.

Mr Fraser-Rennie’s body was found at an address at Crebilly Road in September, 2020.

At the time, a PSNI Detective Chief Inspector had said in a press statement: “At this stage I believe that Donald was the victim of a vicious, sustained and violent beating which resulted in his death”.