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White Rock explosives charges dropped after a year in custody
The case against a man who was accused of making or possessing explosives in White Rock has been dropped.
Crown prosecutor Janet Dickie confirmed that a 10-day trial that was scheduled to get underway this week in regards to the charges against Hamish Norman Sutherland was called off earlier this month – more than a year after his arrest.
Sutherland was released earlier this month.
“After a careful review of the police investigation, we were not in a position to proceed with the substantive charges,” Dickie told Peace Arch News Tuesday.
Dickie declined to elaborate, however, Neil MacKenzie – communications counsel for the Criminal Justice Branch – said the decision related to a police search of a White Rock residence in connection with the file.
It was carried out in late January 2013 following an anonymous tip about chemicals in a Prospect Avenue apartment that may pose “a significant risk to public safety.”
The search was executed by firefighters and police teams including the Explosive Disposal and Chemical/Biological/Radiological/Nuclear Response Unit.
“Due to the perceived urgency in the situation, the police initially searched the apartment involved without a warrant,” MacKenzie said. “Although the police did later obtain a warrant, it was only after the apartment had been subject to some degree of searching.
“A court would likely conclude that the initial search was lawful, but that the continued searching prior to obtaining the warrant would likely not have been found justified.”
With key evidence likely to be ruled inadmissible at trial, there was “no substantial likelihood of conviction,” MacKenzie said.
Sutherland had been in custody since the chemical find, on charges of making or possessing explosives, “possession of firearm, etc. contrary to order” and breach of probation.
White Rock RCMP Sgt. Manly Burleigh said the police search was conducted “due to immediate public safety concerns… under exigent circumstances, as permitted by law.”
Burleigh would not comment on the decision to stay the charges against Sutherland.
“Any decision on the court process rests with Crown and we respect their opinion in this matter,” he said.
Sutherland’s lawyer, Sara Hopkins, said the decision was the right one, and that her client is “absolutely” happy to be out of jail.
At the time of his arrest, Sutherland was on probation in connection with a 2009 incident in New Westminster, in which he was charged with possession of chemicals for dangerous purposes.
He was denied bail on the White Rock matter in June. In August, Hopkins’ effort in B.C. Supreme Court to have him released on grounds of unreasonable delay was also unsuccessful.
Dickie said she had no choice but to release Sutherland on bail this month. It took effect Feb. 3.
Wednesday, Crown was to apply to have Sutherland placed on a peace bond, in connection with a witness associated with the case. The results of that appearance were not available by PAN’s press deadline that afternoon.
Hopkins described her client’s lengthy detention as “unfortunate,” but said the threshold for civil action regarding it is “very high.”
“We have to have a pretty strong case that there was some wrongdoing,” she said.
“The fact that he was in jail for a year awaiting a trial would not be sufficient for us to pursue any sort of civil action.”