The Rachel Nickell case: Stagg trial fuels fresh controversy over Mills: Failure of the CPS prosecution fuels continuing debate over the service's competence

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The Independent Online
THE SPECTACULAR collapse of the Colin Stagg trial is the latest in a series of high- profile cases which have ensured that Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, continues to be the subject of critical scrutiny.

Pressure mounted yesterday on Mrs Mills, 53, to give a full public explanation for her decision to press ahead with the prosecution of Mr Stagg for the murder of Rachel Nickell. The judge, Mr Justice Ognall, said it had relied upon 'reprehensible' evidence.

However, CPS sources are suggesting privately that important aspects of the prosecution case had not been disclosed in court.

Prosecution sources suggested yesterday that they knew the case was 'difficult' but decided it should go before a judge and jury. There would have been an outcry if the case has been dropped.

Yesterday Michael Mansfield QC, a leading defence barrister, said: 'She (Mrs Mills) is the trustee of public funds and confidence. The only way to approach the job is to be impartial, in all cases, apply the same criteria in all cases and to be publicly accountable. If that is followed it is inconceivable that this case would have proceeded.

'The public are never going to be satisfied with a response to pressure which ends in a shambles.'

Richard Ferguson QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: 'The worrying thing is that, had the evidence been admitted, in a high-profile case where the public is baying for blood, that a jury would have convicted. What can be said is that this does show that the judiciary is not only capable but willing to hold the line under such pressure.'

At her previous job as head of the Serious Fraud Office, Mrs Mills had been attacked for the dismal failure of a series of high-profile, lengthy prosecutions, including the investigation into Polly Peck, the Blue Arrow case and the second Guinness trial, all of which have been condemned as inpenetrable and with a cost to the public of many millions of pounds. In the Blue Arrow case, legal costs alone topped pounds 40m.

Since taking over the CPS two years ago, after Sir Allan Green resigned when he was caught kerb-crawling, the pressure has rarely abated. Ironically, most recently she has been criticised for abandoning too many prosecutions, which begs the question: why press ahead with the Stagg prosecution on such flimsy evidence, when other apparently stronger cases had been abandoned? For example, despite a recommendations from West Yorkshire Police that at least a dozen officers of the now disbanded West Midland Serious Crime Squad should face trial for offences including perjury, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and theft, none were charged.

The Police Federation has dubbed the CPS 'the Criminal Protection Society'. Mrs Mills hit back, blaming the police for lack of evidence.

But when Mrs Mills took over, the CPS was already dogged by allegations of inefficiency, inconsistency, disregard for victims, and an inability to attract high-calibre lawyers who can earn far more in private practice. It had never really overcome initial hostility from police, whose prosecution tasks it took over.

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