Northern Ireland

Trial over £1.79 baby dummy 'outrageous' says Lord

The decision to prosecute a woman accused of stealing a £1.79 child's dummy was "an outrageous waste and massive expense", the chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly's Justice Committee has said.

Barbora Batykova, 26, of Chapel Street, Cookstown, was cleared of theft at Dungannon Crown Court on Wednesday.

The prosecution claimed she stole a dummy and put it in her child's mouth whilst shopping at Tesco, Cookstown.

The jury took 20 minutes to clear her.

But Lord Morrow attacked the decision by the Public Prosecution Service to proceed with the case, describing it as "outrageous".

"I don't think this case ever should have been in court," he said.

"This person was accused of theft of a product costing £1.79. If ever there was a case of a sledgehammer used to crack a nut, this is the perfect example. You and I and every other taxpayer will be left to pick up the tab.

"It would not surprise me if it runs to between £10,000 and £20,000 - and all for a product costing £1.79."

Lord Morrow said he understood Ms Batykova had offered to pay.

"The jury came to the right decision," he said, adding that the the public would fail to understand what was going on in the legal system.

"This is a massive expense for one issue - £1.79. Common sense is in short supply."

In a statement, the Public Prosecution Service said theft was a serious offence.

"The prosecution was initially in the magistrates court," the statement said.

"The accused has the right to elect for trial in the crown court. The prosecution cannot object to that. It is a matter for the jury to determine guilt or innocence. "

Exact cost

Lord Morrow said he would be writing to the minister of justice to establish the exact cost of the case.

Justice Minister David Ford said he could not comment on individual cases but said his department was working to keep people out of the formal justice systems for minor offences.

"One of the proposals in the Justice Bill currently before the Assembly is to extend the use of fixed penalty notices from just dealing with the current motoring offences to include minor retail crime," he said.

"If somebody hands back goods, pays for them or makes restitution, they could accept a fixed penalty notice.

"This means they wouldn't get a formal criminal record, they wouldn't have to be taken through the whole procedures, there wouldn't be the formal cost to the Public Prosecution Service and the Court Service and they would be dealt with a lot quicker. Most people would see that as a significant bonus."

Ms Batykova's solicitor, John Fox said he defended an individual's right to be tried by a jury.

"She (Ms Batykova) paid for the item before leaving the store, but nevertheless she was prosecuted," he said.

"She was found not guilty on the basis she had no intention whatsoever of stealing this item, it was quite simply a mistake, a genuine mistake, It took the jury all of about 20 minutes to reach that conclusion unanimously."

Mr Fox said the prosecution decision to advance the case was "incredible".

In a statement, Tesco said: "As with all other retailers, our staff will quite rightly call the police if there is a suspicion of theft from our stores. Any decision to charge and prosecute an individual with a crime and take the case to the courts is a matter for the authorities."