Bail again for murder accused

Murder accused 'Christopher Robinson
Murder accused 'Christopher Robinson

The man charged with murdering a prison officer in Belfast was granted bail again on Tuesday after his latest breach of bail conditions.

Christopher Robinson appeared back before the city’s magistrates’ court, claiming a failure to report to police on time was due to him falling asleep.

But releasing the 46-year-old from custody again, a judge cautioned: “You might not get as easy a ride again.”

Robinson, of Aspen Park in Dunmurry, is accused over the killing of Adrian Ismay in March.

The accused was returned to custody on Monday for allegedly breaching bail conditions by failing to sign in with the PSNI by an arranged time.

He had contacted police claiming to have slept in, the court heard.

It followed a separate incident earlier this month when Robinson allegedly failed to return home in time for his curfew.

He had also been brought before the courts earlier in the year in relation to breaches of bail conditions, and each time has been granted continuing bail by the courts despite opposition from the PSNI and prosecutors.

Despite being on a murder charge, Robinson was originally granted bail in early May by Mr Justice Colton, who said that the defendant was well-known to the authorities, diminishing the risk of any possible reoffending.

On the first night of his release, Robinson did not answer the door of his house at 2.25am when police called. The PSNI returned to the property after 6am, arrested Robinson and brought him before the courts that day.

His lawyer told a district judge: “This isn’t an issue that’s going to arise again. Mr Robinson sees how vigorously his bail conditions are going to be enforced by the authorities.”

Robinson was freed again by the district judge but that very night a security firm reported an issue with his tag.

He was re-admitted to bail once more the following day by a second district judge, Alan White, after his lawyers argued that a fall outside his home caused the tag to come loose.

His defence solicitor Padraig O Muirigh later noted that his client had been arrested on two occasions within 48 hours.

“My client is concerned this is the start of a campaign of harassment against him while he’s on bail,” he said.

In the latest hearing a PSNI constable said that the latest breach of bail conditions followed the incident earlier this month when Robinson allegedly failed to return home in time for his curfew.

“I made it clear to the court that if there were any further breaches in this case we would strenuously object to bail,” the constable added.

Defence counsel Sean Devine insisted Robinson had not been misbehaving or wilfully ignoring his release conditions.

“He took some medication for his bad back and fell asleep,” the barrister said.

Mr Devine also claimed the earlier failure to abide by the curfew was due to difficulties in securing a taxi home from the West Belfast Festival.

Deciding to re-admit Robinson to bail, Deputy District Judge Peter Prenter told him: “You have bail terms set and you abide by them no matter what.”

The News Letter asked the PSNI about the case and the repeated bail breaches last night, and a spokeswoman said: “The police attitude to bail at the initial remand and subsequent enforcement of those conditions are a matter of public record as outlined in respective court appearances.”

In May, when we asked about the previous breaches, Detective Chief Inspector Richard Campbell told us: “On each of the two occasions where bail conditions were breached in this case, we objected to Robinson’s further release on bail, but the decision is ultimately one for the court to make and further bail was granted.”

The News Letter in May also asked the courts service about the repeated granting of bail.

The said: “Since the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1988, the judiciary are obliged to release applicants on bail unless certain circumstances are established in court. There is a presumption of innocence and therefore in favour granting of bail.

“Invariably, however, a judge must consider whether or not the prosecution have established a recognised risk, such as the defendant being likely to reoffend or interfere with witnesses or leave the jurisdiction. If such a risk is identified then the court has another step to consider. Again, this is a legal requirement.

“The court must decide if a condition or conditions might be attached to the bail to prevent the risks identified by the prosecution arising. Unless there is a risk, and no conditions may be applied to address the risk, then the judge must release the defendant.”

When we asked the courts service yesterday about this further granting of bail, despite PSNI opposition, they cited the same guidance as above.

A spokeswoman added: “The same legal principles we previously outlined similarly applies in this instance. The judge will have weighed up the evidence and the submissions from both lawyers acting for the prosecution and the defendant and applied these principles, which I’m setting out again [above] for ease of reference.”

Prosecutors were not at yesterday’s hearing.

When we asked them about the breaches in May, they made clear that they had opposed bail: “We presented evidence relating to an alleged breach of bail on two occasions to the court and made representations that bail should not be granted.”

Mr Ismay, 52, suffered serious leg injuries when a booby-trap bomb exploded under a van he was driving in east Belfast. He had been recovering, but died following a return to hospital 11 days later.

Robinson is allegedly linked to the bombing by CCTV footage of a car believed to have been used to plant the device at the victim’s Hillsborough Drive home early on March 4.

Forensic examination of the car revealed traces of RDX, an identifier in high explosive material, on its rear floor and seats, a previous court was told.

Robinson was said to have known Mr Ismay through working together as volunteers with St John Ambulance.

Robinson also faces a further charge of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life.