Chief constable tried to stop interview being published

Posted By: June 06, 2016

Billy Foley. Irish News (Belfast).Monday, June 6, 2016

CHIEF Constable George Hamilton has made an extraordinary attempt to interfere in the operation of The Irish News.

The head of the PSNI sought to prevent this newspaper publishing an interview with a suspect in the massacre of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmill in Co Armagh in1976.

Colm Murphy, who has separately been found liable for the Omagh bombing in a civil case, claimed in a story published in Saturday’s edition of The Irish News that he was being set up to protect Sinn Féin embarrassment around the IRA massacre.

The Irish News also reported that a palm print found on a getaway vehicle used by the killers belonged to Murphy.

It came after a sensational development in the Kingsmill inquest last Tuesday when the court was told that a fresh police investigation had been ordered after the palm print had been matched using police records.

Some victims’ families had questioned the timing of the police announcement, coming one-week into a

long-awaited inquest more than 40 years after the killings.

At 10pm on Friday the PSNI began a chain of a events which culminated with an emergency sitting of the High Court in Belfast in the early hours of Saturday morning in an attempt to prevent the publication of the suspect’s name.

Between 10pm and 1.20am, there were several phone calls from the Crown Solicitor’s Office to news editor Billy Foley, editor Noel Doran and managing director Dominic Fitzpatrick

The representative of the Crown Solicitor’s Office, who said she was instructed by the chief constable, wanted an assurance that we would not name the suspect or she would seek a High Court order preventing publication.

Asked why The Irish News should provide such an assurance, she would only say that to publish the name “would hinder the investigation”.

During the course of a number of phone calls over a period of two hours the Crown Solicitor’s Office was repeatedly asked for any additional detail as to why The Irish News should take this unprecedented step but no further information was forthcoming as to how publication would “hinder the investigation”.

At midnight the Crown Solicitor’s Office was informed that the first edition of the newspaper was now printed and was being readied for distribution to the Republic and that through the normal course of the production schedule we had begun publication on our digital platforms.

Despite this, we received a further call at 12.15am to inform us of a 12.30am sitting of the High Court before Mr Justice Horner.

The final phone call from the Crown Solicitor’s Office was at 1.20am on Saturday, to inform us that Mr Justice Horner had adjourned until this morning.

Irish News editor Noel Doran said: “We were astounded that the chief constable set out to prevent the publication of an interview involving matters which were plainly in the public interest.

“It was even more astonishing that his representative was unable to provide any legal basis for the intervention.

“We are ready to defend our position vigorously before the courts but what really needs to be provided is a full explanation for the actions of the chief constable.”

The Irish secretary of the NUJ Seamus Dooley also questioned the commitment of Mr Hamilton to press freedom.

“The Kingsmill shootings was one of the most disturbing incidents of the Troubles and the failure to secure convictions for the killings remains a matter of grave, public concern,” he said.

“It is ironic that so many years after the killings an attempt was made to prevent publication of a legitimate news story, apparently on the basis that it may interfere with the investigation.

“The Irish News story was clearly in the public interest and the attempt to prevent publication by the PSNI raises fundamental questions about press freedom and how that right is viewed by the chief constable.

“The interview with Mr Murphy was a legitimate journalistic exercise and in no way impedes the work of the PSNI.”

Asked if the chief constable wanted to comment, a spokesman for Mr Hamilton said: “These matters are subject to ongoing legal proceedings and as such it would be inappropriate to comment.”