Freedom of expression rights must give way to protecting the life of a convicted robber accused by a newspaper of involvement in murder and informing on dissident republican leaders, the High Court heard today.
Counsel for Brendan Conway argued that he should be granted an injunction to stop a Sunday World campaign which has put him under real and immediate threat.
The 39-year-old north Belfast man claims to have been vilified and harassed in a series of sensationalist and false articles. Allegations detailed in court include:
:: That he is a Real IRA boss linked to the murder of Kevin Kearney in the city last October.
:: That he supplied bugged cars to other dissident republicans in his role as a police informant.
:: That he had drug dealers targeted to clear debts.
Conway emphatically denies all of the claims made about him in the newspaper and contends that they have put his life in danger.
Police have issued two threat warnings about a planned gun attack on him since the first of four articles was published last October.
Mr Conway has also been assaulted, abused in the street for being "a tout" and forced into hiding, the court heard.
As well as claiming harassment, his action claims the newspaper is guilty of malicious falsehood and misuse of private information.
Libel proceedings have also been issued.
The Sunday World is defending the proceedings, arguing that Conway should be denied an injunction because of his alleged association with dissident republicans.
With backing from the BBC, UTV and Belfast Telegraph, lawyers for the newspaper have also claimed that imposing a ban on reporting his alleged activities would have a chilling effect on attempts to expose an underworld of drugs and murder.
It was set out during the hearing that Conway has a conviction for robbery related to taking £230,000 from an under-threat Ulster Bank employee.
But closing the case today his senior counsel, Brian Fee QC, insisted that the threats against him were due to the articles.
The court's options are limited by the plaintiff's Article 2 Right to Life under the European Convention on Human Rights being in play, he contended.
Mr Fee said: "If that means there's some adverse impact on freedom of expression rights then unfortunately that's a price that has to be paid."
According to the barrister any press entitlements are also outweighed by the need to shield informers.
"If the story is true - which we say it absolutely is not - that this man is an informant, then there's a serious public interest in that being protected," he said.
Setting out the measures he claimed should be taken, Mr Fee added: "In this case what we are asking for is that the allegations that the plaintiff is a murderer of Mr Kearney, that he has had Mr Kearney and other drug dealers targeted in order to avoid debts, and that he's a dissident republican informant betraying the leadership by selling bugged cars should not be repeated pending a full trial of this case."
Mr Justice Gillen reserved his decision on the injunction application. ends