Monday, June 16, 2008

Scots QC considering legal action over alleged 'sacking' claim

A complicated one ..

The Scotsman reports :

Scottish QC may take legal action over claim he was 'sacked' from murder inquiry team


A SCOTTISH QC is considering legal action after claiming that he was sacked from a key role in an inquiry into the murder of a loyalist prisoner in Northern Ireland.

The inquiry chairman, retired Scottish judge Lord MacLean, announced a fortnight ago that Derek Batchelor had resigned, but last week the senior lawyer insisted he had not jumped, but had been pushed.

"I had no intention of leaving my post … It is important to ensure that the exact nature of my departure is known … I now feel obliged to consider legal action," said Batchelor.

The inquiry into the death of Billy "King Rat" Wright in the Maze Prison in 1997 – the leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force was shot by republicans – was announced in 2004, and was in its 68th day of hearings at Banbridge courthouse, Co Down, when the sudden announcement was made.

Lord MacLean, one of the Lockerbie trial judges, who is chairing the three-member Wright inquiry panel, said that Batchelor had resigned as lead counsel – the person who questions witnesses and is largely responsible for the presentation of evidence.

Without giving any reasons for the loss of such an important figure in the inquiry, Lord MacLean said that the investigation of Wright's death would continue uninterrupted while a new QC was recruited to the post. In the meantime, junior counsel Murdo Macleod, another member of the Scottish Bar, would take over the examination of witnesses.

A clearly upset and angry Batchelor decided to present his account of events. "On 3 June, I was called to a meeting and was advised by the panel that complaints had been made over my handling of some staff matters. There was no doubt in my mind on leaving this meeting that I had been dismissed from the inquiry," he said.

"Contrary to subsequent reports, I have not resigned and I had no intention of leaving my post as the inquiry reaches critical stages. To avoid any doubt over my understanding of the situation, I have since offered to return to the inquiry but this has not been progressed.

"I do not wish to disrupt the work of the inquiry. It is essential that it continues and reaches a satisfactory conclusion. I am happy to offer assistance to any replacement counsel by sharing essential information, subject to certain limitations outwith my control.

"It is regrettable that I now feel obliged to consider legal action. However, I believe it is important to ensure that the exact nature of my departure is known and understood by all involved in this important investigation."

Batchelor declined to expand on his statement.

An honours graduate of Edinburgh University in 1971 and a former procurator-fiscal, Batchelor joined the Faculty of Advocates in 1987, and became a QC in 1998. He served for almost three years as a High Court prosecutor, and held the post of home advocate-depute, third in the Crown Office hierarchy behind the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General.

He also sat as a temporary sheriff and represented Tommy Sheridan when he was jailed in 1992 for breaching a court order by leading a protest that caused the cancellation of a warrant sale.

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