Thursday 18 June 2009

Suzanne Breen sources fight court victory: Judge rules 'her life was in danger'

A judge at the High Court in Belfast today rejected a police application to make Sunday Tribune Northern Ireland editor Suzanne Breen hand over source material linked to stories she has written about the Real IRA.
He ruled that to hand over the material would endanger her life.
Breen received the Real IRA's claim of responsibility for the murder of two soldiers in Antrim in March.
She told Belfast Recorder Tom Burgess she had been advised by a source her life would be in danger if she co-operated with the PSNI request.
She added: "I am not going to put myself under a death sentence from the Real IRA. I want to continue living in Northern Ireland, working in Northern Ireland. I want to protect the life of my daughter and of my partner."
The police said they needed Breen's source material as part of the murder inquiry.
Among those journalists who gave evidence on Breen's behalf were Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News, Liam Clarke from the Sunday Times, media commentator Roy Greenslade and Panorama's John Ware.
All of them stressed how a journalist must honour any guarantee of confidentiality given to those who provide information.
BBC reports: "His Honour Judge Burgess, the Recorder of Belfast, said that (to hand over sources material) would be a breach of Ms Breen's right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
He acknowledged that there was a great public interest in catching the killers but said the journalist's right to life outweighs that.
The Recorder said he was satisfied that the concept of confidentiality for journalists protecting their sources is recognised in law, and specifically under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights."
Breen told Sky News at lunchtime: "I am delighted. We've won on all counts." She said she hoped it would be a victory on behalf of all journalists in the UK to protect their sources.
NUJ reaction: Suzanne Breen had the full backing of the NUJ in her fight not to reveal sources.
NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: “We now hope that the security forces will concentrate on tracking down criminals and those responsible for murder rather than targeting journalists. The use of anti-terror legislation to target journalists is a worrying international trend and this case is a welcome development in halting the erosion of civil liberties.”
NUJ Irish Secretary, Séamus Dooley, added: “The NUJ welcomes this landmark judgment. No journalist should face the prospect of a prison sentence for doing their job in the public interest. Judge Burgess has recognised the central importance of the protection of journalistic sources and also accepted that a journalist who hands over confidential material could put their life at risk.”
The question that now has to be asked is why was Suzanne Breen put through this ordeal?
Why was Sally Murrer?

Why was Martin Bright?

Why was Robin Ackroyd?

Why was Bill Goodwin?

Why was Jeremy Warner?

These sources' cases go back more than 20 years. All the journalists won, eventually, sometimes after years of being dragged through the courts. When will the police and other authorities realise journalists will not give up their sources, even if they are threatened will jail?
Pic: Jon Slattery

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