The jury in a trial of three men charged in connection with an illegal dump on the outskirts of Derry has been discharged.
A judge at Derry Crown Court slammed 'the lack of forethought and planning by Northern Ireland Environment Agency staff' after she had to discharge a jury in the case of three men charged in connection with the llegal dump due to the possibility of 'inadvertent prejudice' due to media coverage.
The trial, which began last Tuesday, was connected to the discovery by members of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) of an illegal dump at Carnmoney Road outside the village of Eglinton just over six years ago.
The defendants are Thomas McGlinchey, 59, from Belfield Park in Foyle Springs, Robert Lynch, 77, from Carnmoney Road, and John Ferguson, 65, from Prince's Terrace in Derry.
All three were charged with depositing or permitting controlled waste to dumped on the site.
The defendant Lynch was also charged with keeping controlled waste without a waste management licence on the land and the defendant McGlinchey was further charged with keeping or allowing controlled waste to be deposited on the site.
At the hearing on Thursday, defence barristers had made an application for the jury to be discharged due to coverage in the media of a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council in relation to a different illegal dump.
The court heard that at a committee meeting of the council last Wednesday there had been discussion about an illegal dump at Mobouy Road with public representatives calling for a public inquiry.
Judge Elizabeth McCaffrey said that after two days of evidence mainly by members of the NIEA the prosecution case was nearing its conclusion when one of the counsel in the trial heard radio reports of the council meeting.
In these reports NIEA officials said they were limited in what they could say due to a forthcoming trial.
The judge said she had listened to radio reports that had been on Radio Foyle and Radio Ulster throughout the morning.
She said one of the concerns expressed was about damage to the water quality in the area.
Judge McCaffrey also referred to a report in the Derry News which had a report on the Mobouy Road dump on page 4 and a report of the trial on page 6. She said while it was made clear the Mobouy Road dump was not on the defendant Lynch's land there was a danger the jury could be 'inadvertently prejudiced'.
The judge said that she could have cautioned the jury not to be influenced by the coverage but she was unsure if that would have been sufficient.
The judge was critical of the timing of the meeting 'due to the proximity of the trial' and pointed out that NIEA had rescheduled a presentation last October due to concerns about the court case.
She said that showed they were 'sensitive' to the concerns but she added it was 'astounding' the agency did not properly co-ordinate their presentation to avoid conflict with a trial.
Judge McCaffrey said that even the 'most conscientious juror could be influenced by the media reports'.
While she accepted there was no 'bad faith' on behalf of NIEA she did think that the jury could be influenced by the reports and a direction from her would not be adequate. As a result, the jury was discharged and the case will be mentioned in February to try and set a new date for the trial.
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