Crown to press ahead despite collapse of case

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The Independent Online
The collapse of the Serafinowicz case is a blow for the Crown Prosecution Service which was planning to call 30 witnesses at trial, including four new witnesses who had not testified at the committal. But the service insisted future cases, not all of which involved potential defendants as old as Szymon Serafinowicz, would be judged independently on their own facts.

There are five active investigations in the pipeline, four of which CPS war crimes specialists believe could result in viable cases to put before juries.

One, involving the activities of a deputy police commander in former Byelorussia (now Belarus), has been recommended for prosecution, although further material is being gathered before the Attorney General, who must sanction all prosecutions, is asked to give a decision.

The other investigations include a further case involving Belarus, one concerning a mobile killing unit in Ukraine, and another involving events at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Mauthausen was the only Category 3 concentration camp, where the Nazis sent people they considered totally incapable of converting to their cause.

The CPS has so far spent around pounds 2m on initial investigations after the 1991 War Crimes Act was passed and on detailed work on the Serafinowicz and other cases.

The investigations began with an examination of 369 potential cases. But 112 of the potential defendants had died. The service also took the decision not to prosecute cases of single killings, as opposed to participation in multiple or mass murder. Ten cases were identified for detailed investigation and police officers and lawyers began visits to Belarus and other Eastern European countries.

A prosecution source said the CPS could "live with" the result in the Serafinowicz case because the defendant had been committed for trial on the strength of detailed evidence, and the Crown had won a crucial argument in a hearing last month that a trial would not be an abuse of process because it could not be fairly conducted so long after the event.

It would have been technically possible for the Crown to have pressed on with what is known as a "trial of the facts" in the Serafinowicz case in the absence of the defendant.

But Sir Derek Spencer, the Solicitor General, told the judge yesterday that this would be "wholly inappropriate in a case such as this, where the disability arises because of old age and infirmity".