Irish Journalist Wins Appeal Against Police Order



In the last week of October, Irish journalist Ed Maloney won his appeal to a Northern Ireland High Court against a police order to turn over the notes of his interviews with police informant William Stobie.

Stobie had revealed that he told the Royal Irish Constabulary that he had known about plans to assassinate nationalist lawyer Pat Finucane in February 1989 and that they had allowed the murder to go ahead. Once this story was reported the police charged Stobie himself with the killing and demanded, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, that Maloney hand over his notes.

The journalist protested that the police were trying to destroy him as a journalist because if he broke his pledge of confidentiality to his sources, he would no longer be trusted and thus would be unable to do his job. On the other hand, if he refused and the order was upheld, he faced jail and ruinous fines.

The case drew interest among journalists and defenders of human rights because the police order was an obvious attack on journalistic investigation of police collusion with pro-imperialist death squads.

Maloney had argued that the police themselves had interrogated Stobie at the time of the Finucane murder, and had gotten the same story as he, and therefore had no need of his notes. The police refused to hand over the notes of their interrogation.

But finally Scopie’s lawyers were able to get the court to hand over the notes of his interrogation, arguing that the prosecutor had concealed evidence, and that the notes would show that Stobie had informed the police of the impending killing and they had done nothing.

On this basis, the court could hardly refuse the petition of the defense. The notes were handed over and they proved Maloney’s contention. On Oct. 6, the journalist informed his supporters:

“The result was a triumph. One hundred and twenty-two pages of notes were handed over to the judge, covering 47 hours of interviews, while Stobie’s barrister put on the record the salient points-that he gave the RUC exactly the same account as he gave me, that he was a Special Branch [political police] agent, that he had named names (although these were blacked out in the copy given to defense) and that at no stage did his RUC interrogators challenge his claims about informing the Special Branch before Finucane’s murder.

“In fact at one stage Stobie complained to his interrogators that the Special Branch had done nothing to prevent Finucane’s murder and they replied that they couldn’t have done anything because he hadn’t told his Special Branch handlers the name of the target, only that the UDA [Ulster Defense Association] were going for a top Provo.

“This was exactly what he had told me; it was a clear admission by the RUC that Stobie had indeed informed the Special Branch [SB] of the UDA’s plans as he had told me. (In reality, the SB had enough info about who was involved to put everyone under surveillance and thus learn the target; either that or they were quite happy to allow the UDA to kill “top Provos” all over the place.) In other words, Stobie has been telling the truth.”

After the police were left exposed in this way, it would have been very difficult for the court to uphold the order against Maloney, and it did not. The court’s quashing of the order is a major victory for freedom of the press and the right of public surveillance of the repressive forces in the United Kingdom.

The revelation of these records is also convincing evidence of RUC collusion with political death squads. It should be harder now for the British authorities to prevent the truth from coming out about the dirty war they have waged against the Catholic and nationalist community in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years.

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