‘Complete vindication' of Irish News stance in High Court
THE PSNI Chief Constable has ended a legal attempt to prevent the Irish News publishing the alleged identity of a palm print on a van linked to the Kingsmill massacre.
With the Irish News having reported the print belongs to veteran Co Louth republican Colm Murphy, counsel for George Hamilton confirmed at the High Court that his bid to secure an injunction was now "pointless".
Peter Coll QC also stressed that the PSNI will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the paper's story.
Irish News Editor Noel Doran described the outcome as a "complete vindication" of its stance.
The legal action centred on an article in Saturday's edition alleging that Murphy's palm print was found on a getaway vehicle used by the IRA gang who murdered 10 Protestant workmen in the atrocity at Kingsmill, Co Armagh in 1976.
Last week it was revealed that police are to re-open their investigation into the killings due to the discovery of new evidence 40 years on.
The announcement came within days of the long-awaited inquest getting underway, hearing harrowing evidence from sole survivor Alan Black.
Murphy (63) was one of the men found liable for the 1998 Omagh bombing following a landmark civil action.
In an interview with the Irish News he claimed he is being set up over Kingsmill to protect Sinn Féin embarrassment at what happened.
Lawyers for the Chief Constable went into the High Court in the early hours of Saturday morning in a bid to stop the Irish News publishing claims about the identity of the palm print.
However, at that stage the newspaper had already been printed and story had also appeared in its online edition.
The legal move followed a series of phone calls from the Crown Solicitor's Office to senior members staff at the Irish News seeking assurances that the suspect would not be named.
Concerns about the potential impact on the ongoing investigation were cited.
Proceedings had been adjourned until yesterday, when Mr Justice Horner was told police felt they had no option but to seek an injunction because the Irish News refused to agree to withhold the article.
"The Chief Constable was not moving simply to try and prevent publication of an interview, the concern was the potential identification of a suspect," Mr Coll said.
"The PSNI will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of any aspect of the Irish News publication."
Referring to the articles that have already appeared online and in print, Mr Coll said publication "cannot be undone".
He accepted: "The application for an injunction is, in effect, pointless."
The barrister added: "Given the investigation and ongoing coroner's proceedings, it is incumbent on all involved in the widest sense possible to ensure nothing is done or said that may be to the detriment of the prospects of the families of those killed, of the sole survivor Mr Black, and the wider community, in achieving truth and justice."
The police probe could also now impact on the running of the tribunal into events surrounding the deaths.
Counsel for the coroner, Sean Doran QC, said: "In a situation such as this, where there's a live police investigation, the normal course would be that an inquest would give way to that."
Bernard Fitzpatrick, representing the Irish News, stressed: "There was no intention in any way to do anything that would impede the investigation."
He told Mr Justice Horner that Mr Doran had attended court and was willing to give evidence.
Instead, however, the judge agreed to a further indefinite adjournment.
Outside court the newspaper's editor said: "The police were unable to provide any compelling reason why we should not have published online on Friday night or in print on Saturday morning.
"We were not even contacted about the matter until after 10pm, and even then it was so vague and lacking in legal reason not to publish."
Mr Doran added: "We were then given 15 minutes notice of a hearing at the High Court at 12.30am on Saturday morning.
"We returned today and we've been completely vindicated by counsel for the PSNI not proceeding with the application for an injunction."
In a statement Assistance Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, Head of the PSNI's Legacy and Justice Department, said the legal action was not taken lightly, but to protect the effectiveness of the investigation and the inquest process in the interest of justice.
He added: "The PSNI is acutely aware of the distress caused to the families of the victims in terms of both the new line of enquiry, the resulting media scrutiny and this recent issue with the Irish News.
"However, I would reassure them that any action taken by us is firmly based in our commitment to protecting the integrity of the investigation and the inquest at all times."