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Fife sheriff says police CCTV ‘tardiness’ is ‘underselling justice system to victims of crime’

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A Fife sheriff has blasted Police Scotland for their “tardiness” in providing vital CCTV evidence to the courts, which he says is “underselling the criminal justice system to victims of crime”.

Sheriff Timothy Niven-Smith made the remarks after hearing both the prosecution and defence lawyers in a case still have not been given footage from two years ago that could potentially identify those accused of damaging and stealing from cars.

Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard from one defence lawyer the CCTV in question is believed to show a number of people “trying doors” in a Fife village.

Procurator fiscal depute Michael Robertson said he believed the footage had been seized by police from the “outset of the case” and the Crown Office has since chased it up.

CCTV camera
Delays in CCTV evidence have been raised in courts in Fife.

Sheriff Niven-Smith said: “So that presumably means officers were provided with CCTV by the operator of the (camera) system prior to September 25 last year.

“I’m totally at a loss.

“That means police officers go to someone’s door… and they say they have CCTV and load it on to a pen drive and sign a piece of paper and so, where is it?

“It’s not rocket science.

“I simply don’t understand how these things can not be provided to the procurator fiscal and then be provided to the defence.”

Accused persons ‘likely to plead guilty’

The sheriff continued: “The date of these offences is April 2020.

“As I have repeatedly said… the accused are likely – if they see themselves on footage trying handles and car doors – to plead guilty.

“We have all these public expenses and wasted court resources and are churning cases over and over simply because we can not be given CCTV to show to clients to say ‘that is me’ or ‘that is not me.’

“I simply don’t understand why this case is trundling slowly along.

“This is meant to be summary justice but it does not seem like summary justice to those whose cars were tampered with.

“We are underselling the criminal justice system to victims of crime by the tardiness of police producing CCTV footage.”

New dates set

Sheriff Niven-Smith set a further intermediate diet – a court hearing to ascertain the state of preparation for both the prosecution and defence before trial – for May 9 in the hope the footage would “magically appear”.

The sheriff has previously been critical of the speed at which CCTV is being disclosed to the courts and said there is “clearly an issue with Police Scotland”.

Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court.
Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court.

In March, Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard one case due for trial had to be adjourned because footage had not been provided in time, despite the alleged act of public indecency happening nearly a year ago.

Police and Crown working together

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Mairs said police are working hard with colleagues in the criminal justice system to ensure all evidence required for court, including CCTV footage, is available at the appropriate time to allow cases to proceed promptly.

He said: “While we achieve this in most circumstances, the Covid pandemic has placed significant additional demand on the criminal justice system, including a backlog of cases and an increased requirement for police to provide CCTV for cases that had previously been delayed now going to trial.

“We continue to work with criminal justice partners to address these challenges.

“Where specific concerns are raised by partners we will work with them to resolve those concerns.

“A Digital Evidence Sharing Capability (DESC) project is being progressed to allow all criminal justice agencies to store and share digital evidence securely and quickly”.

A Crown Office spokesperson said previously that they work with partners in the criminal justice system to ensure cases progress through the prosecution process as “efficiently as possible,” and would keep liaising with police in Fife and across Scotland.

The spokesperson added: “We understand the impact the court process can have on victims of crime and are committed to improving the experiences of victims and witnesses.”

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