Belfast Telegraph

'Our job is to expose criminals,' former Sunday World editor tells court

By Alan Erwin

The former editor of a newspaper being sued by a Belfast man it linked to loyalist paramilitaries told the High Court today: "Our job is to expose criminals."

Jim McDowell rejected claims that Sunday World articles featuring Colin Fulton amounted to an oppressive campaign.

He also insisted Mr Fulton was known to both police and neighbourhood friends by the nickname 'Meerkat'.

The newspaper is defending a harassment claim brought against it by the Progressive Unionist Party member.

Mr Fulton denies ever having been a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The Sunday World stories alleging his involvement in the organisation have put his life at increased risk from dissident republicans, according to his case.

He has received at least six separate warnings from police that he is under threat - four of them coming after the newspaper began claiming he has a paramilitary role.

The 39-year-old, from the Village area of south Belfast, told Mr Justice Deeny that being falsely branded a UVF member "turned his life upside down".

In court today it was put to Mr McDowell, northern editor of the Sunday World until his retirement in the summer, that its stories were oppressive and unreasonable.

But the journalist replied: "I do not accept that. We were reporting in the public interest on a criminal organisation, on arch-criminals within that organisation."

Mr McDowell claimed it was being suggested the newspaper "put up a list and then stuck a pin in it" before deciding who to write about.

"The Sunday World has suffered because of the panoply of paramilitaries we cover, from the INLA and IRA to the UDA, it's not one specific organisation or one specific person," he told the court.

"We are stakeholders in this society as well as being paid to produce a newspaper.

"Our job on behalf of the community we live in is to expose criminals."

Earlier in the hearing he was pressed about the origins of a nickname given to Mr Fulton.

David Heraghty, counsel for the plaintiff, referred to an article which claimed loyalist sources disclosed he had been "dubbed Meerkat by police because he pops up whenever there's trouble".

The barrister then drew attention to another story which reported he was known to "pals" by the moniker because of a resemblance to the creature.

Despite Mr McDowell insisting 'Meerkat' was used by police and Mr Fulton's friends, Mr Heraghty contended: "Is it not simply the case that really you have given this name as a form of entertainment."

The case continues.

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