Newspaper wins landmark legal battle over photograph of British agent in the IRA
A newspaper won a landmark legal battle today after being sued for publishing a photo of a former British army secret agent inside the IRA.
In what is being seen as a victory for press freedom, a judge dismissed Peter Keeley's action against the Irish News.
Mr Keeley, a one-time MI5 and RUC informer who uses the pseudonym Kevin Fulton, was seeking £5,000 damages for breach of privacy and copyright.
He also claimed unauthorised use of an unmasked, self-taken picture has exposed him to heightened danger.
But a judge rejected all aspects of his case and awarded costs against him, leaving the ex-spy facing a potential five-figure legal bill.
The 52-year-old issued proceedings over a photograph which appeared in the newspaper in April 2011.
The report was in connection with a separate lawsuit his ex-wife took against the Ministry of Defence, the Chief Constable and Freddie Scappaticci, the west Belfast man who denies allegations that he was the army spy codenamed Stakeknife.
Margaret Keeley claimed she was interrogated by an IRA security team, including Scappaticci, following a failed plot to murder a senior RUC officer in Belfast in 1994.
She also alleges wrongful arrest and false imprisonment by the security forces who held her for three days after the assassination attempt.
Mrs Keeley believes her detention was part of an elaborate sham to protect her husband's cover.
But according to her ex-husband an image of himself he took in a photo-booth for an international driving licence should never have featured in the newspaper report.
In his evidence, given behind screens at Belfast County Court earlier this year, the Newry-born former soldier said he will always be under a death sentence from republicans.
He said he doesn't socialise or allow himself to be photographed.
Publishing the self-taken photograph was like a soldier being shot with his own gun, he claimed.
The Irish News defended the action by citing the right to freedom of expression.
Lawyers for the newspaper argued that it was an absurd case brought by a high-profile figure who regularly courts the media.
The court was told the image was part of a Google search which returned nearly 250,000 hits.
Backing the Irish News' case, Judge Isobel Brownlie held that the photograph was in the public domain and easily accessible online.
In a ruling which was critical of the one-time agent's evidence, she also pointed to his high public profile.
Irish News editor Noel Doran stressed the significance of the verdict.
He said: "I feel that today's judgment is an important victory for press freedom and also represents a complete vindication of the actions of our paper.
"If Mr Keeley had won his case, we would not only have been left with a huge bill but it would have been legally very difficult for any news organisation to put a proper spotlight on the shadowy world of informers and agents."
Mr Doran added: "However, thanks to a comprehensive and carefully argued ruling from the judge, the three main claims put forward by Mr Keeley, covering his security, copyright over a photograph and right to privacy, have all been firmly rejected.
"I am very grateful to our legal team, and I think we have demonstrated that The Irish News will offer a very robust defence before any court when we believe that a point of principle is at stake."
Belfast Telegraph Digital