Belfast Telegraph

Trio lose battle to make Sunday World reveal source

Three men allegedly recorded in conversation following a dissident republican gun attack on police have lost a legal battle to have a newspaper forced to reveal its source for reports on the covert operation.

Colin Duffy, Alex McCrory and Henry (Harry) Fitzsimons were seeking a High Court order compelling the Sunday World to disclose who supplied information for articles claiming to quote from the secret audio.

But a judge held that at this stage the importance of establishing the name did not outweigh the public interest in protecting journalistic sources.

Lord Justice Stephens cited the potential "chilling effect...in the context of alleged terrorist activities".

Details of the case can now be published after reporting restrictions were lifted.

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Alex McCrory at a previous court appearance

Duffy, 49, from Forest Glade in Lurgan, Co Armagh; 55-year-old McCrory, from Sliabh Dubh View in Belfast; and Fitzsimons, 48, of no fixed address, are currently facing trial on charges linked to the attack nearly four years ago.

A police Landrover and two accompanying vehicles came under fire on Belfast's Crumlin Road in December 2013.

Evidence against the trio centres on covert recordings of conversations in Lurgan the following day.

The prosecution alleges those in discussion on the tapes are the three defendants.

In 2015 the Sunday World published two articles purporting to quote from the covert audio recordings.

Duffy, McCrory and Fitzsimons are suing the newspaper and the Chief Constable, claiming the source of the disclosure is a police officer.

As part of the proceedings they sought an injunction prohibiting the unidentified journalistic source from any further disclosure of the contents of the covert recordings.

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Colin Duffy

They also wanted an order compelling the newspaper to reveal the name or status of the person who supplied the material.

Although the Sunday World refused to disclose its source, undertakings were given in November 2015 not to republish.

Refusing the injunction, Lord Justice Stephens held there was no arguable case of a real risk that the unidentified journalistic source will repeat the alleged unlawful acts.

Turning to the application for disclosure of the name or status, the judge cited the tests that it must be necessary in the interests of justice, national security or to prevent crime.

He ruled that disclosure of the name of the source was not important enough to override the public interest in protecting journalistic sources and ensuring free communication of information to and through the press.

Acknowledging the balance may shift at a later stage in proceedings, he pointed to "the chilling effect on journalistic sources particularly in the context of alleged terrorist activities and the chilling effect of any actual or perceived threat to the life of or bodily integrity of a source".

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