Pressure on DPP after trial collapse

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The Independent Online
THE DECISION by Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to prosecute Colin Stagg for the murder of Rachel Nickell was a serious misjudgement made to appease public opinion, lawyers claimed yesterday.

Although Mrs Mills at no time had personal charge of the files, she was kept advised by independent senior Treasury counsel, Nigel Sweeney and William Boyce, and by Gordon Etherington, chief Crown Prosecutor for London. Sources said the prosecution team knew 'it was always going to be difficult' but decided to press ahead, a move sanctioned by Mrs Mills. One senior prosecutor said yesterday: 'Can you imagine the public outcry . . . if she had abandonned the case?'

But in the face of criticism by Mr Justice Ognall on Wednesday who described the police investigation as 'a blatant attempt to incriminate a suspect by deceptive conduct of the grossest kind', Mrs Mills' office would only say: 'We are completely satisfied with the decision to prosecute.'

A woman detective posed as a girlfriend to pursuade Mr Stagg to talk about the murder.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, Sir John Smith, apologised to the Nickell family for failing to bring her killer to justice. He added that, despite the huge publicity which surrounded the killing, 'at no time did we let the emotion surrounding that murder influence the way in which we carried out the investigation'.

It was being suggested yesterday that not only were police under intense pressure to find the killer but so was the Crown once charges had been brought against Mr Stagg. In March this year the Attorney General said there needed to be more emphasis on the public interest when Crown prosecutors decided whether to proceed with a case.

Yesterday Michael Mansfield, a leading defence QC, said the entrapment appeared a blatant breach of safeguards in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, against false confessions. Richard Ferguson QC called it 'an error of judgement' which could have led to a miscarriage of justice, if the judge had not thrown out the case.

Mrs Mills has recently been criticised for abandoning too many prosecutions.

The Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard each blamed the other yesterday. The police said the undercover operation was supervised by the CPS. The CPS said it gave legal advice at an early stage but the details of the operation were left to the police.

Mr Stagg spent yesterday with his lawyers and was believed to be discussing offers from media organisations for his story.

Fresh controversy, page 4

Leading article, page 17