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Secret evidence in Suzanne Breen case condemned

12 May 2009

The NUJ has condemned the use of evidence given in secret to justify an application to force Belfast journalist Suzanne Breen to hand over confidential material to the police.

The union is launching an international campaign in support of the Northern Ireland editor of the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune.

In Belfast Recorders' Court today, it was said that evidence given last Friday may never be made available to Suzanne Breen or her legal team. Judge Tom Burgess stated that he was "minded" to grant the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) application, but stressed his view could change once he heard Suzanne Breen's case.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, who was present for the hearing, said that Suzanne Breen and her legal team will have to prepare their response to the demand that she hand over notes, recording material, mobile phone and other material relating to articles about the Real IRA "with their hands tied behind their back".

Seamus Dooley said:

"The PSNI has made a sweeping application aimed at forcing Suzanne Breen and the Sunday Tribune to hand over confidential material. A journalist who hands over confidential material is compromised and is immediately put at risk. Suzanne Breen has no option but to refuse to hand over material.
"The basis for the PSNI application is evidence provided in private last Friday, when even Ms Breen's legal team were barred from the court. How can Suzanne respond fully to this application since neither she or her legal team are aware of what precisely was said in court by the PSNI or her counsel on Friday last?
"It is bad enough that a journalist should be faced with the prospect of going to jail in order to protect confidential sources of information but to face such a threat based on evidence given in private is an affront to the principles of natural justice.
"The right to protect sources is vital to journalists. Recent revelations in the UK regarding the expenses regime at Westminster underline the importance of protecting Whistle Blowers. Any legal threat to the protection of sources is a direct threat to whistle-blowers and is therefore not in the public interest."

Following preliminary hearings later this month, it is anticipated that the full application will be heard in the Recorder's Court on Friday 29 May.

The NUJ is seeking the support of the International Federation of Journalists, Amnesty International, trade unions and other civic society organisations as well as media organisations for a major campaign in support of Suzanne Breen and the Sunday Tribune.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, said:

"The NUJ has a long history of standing up for journalists who are being threatened by an arm of the state over protection of their sources.
"We express our total solidarity with Suzanne and urge all members to support the campaign in her defence."

Tags: , suzanne breen, secret evidence, protection of sources, ifj, amnesty international, sunday tribune, newspapers, psni