Northern Ireland news

Social media posts targeting Colin Harvey include threats to behead Queen's academic

Professor Colin Harvey. Picture by Ivan Ewart
John Manley

THREATS to behead Queen's University academic Colin Harvey are among a number of sinister social media posts aimed at the embattled academic, the Policing Board has been told.

The Irish News reported earlier this week that police are looking into recent posts on Twitter and Facebook which could potentially form the basis of a criminal investigation.

Prof Harvey, whose appointment to a Stormont advisory panel on a Bill of Rights was blocked last year by the DUP, has been the target of sustained abuse on social media.

The board member of nationalist civic society group Ireland's Future is understood to have had a panic alarm fitted in his office at Queen's, his name plate removed from his office door, and information about his location removed from the university's website.

At yesterday's Policing Board meeting, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly raised the ongoing investigation into social media posts threatening public figures, including Prof Harvey.

"Some of the threats are calling for him to be beheaded," the North Belfast representative claimed.

"This is the same stuff that happened before Pat Finucane was assassinated by a number of loyalists and that's what worries me about this."

Mr Kelly asked about measures to enhance the personal security of those targeted.

"What is being done to individuals who are vulnerable, that they can be assessed and given protection, which I think they deserve?" he said.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne said police would assess the evidence on social media and offer crime prevention advice if needed.

Assistant Chief Constable for Local Policing Bobby Singleton said he has twice met a group of "concerned individuals" since February.

"We do take it extremely seriously because of the historic issues we have had around human rights advocates and academics being subject to target and attack," Mr Singleton said.

"I have appointed a superintendent to review the material they have brought forward that was of concern to them and appointed an inspector to oversee material.

"I expect there to be developments in the coming days and weeks."

Northern Ireland news