Northern Ireland: High Court allows publication of articles identifying murder suspect

Katrin Welker

The High Court of Northern Ireland dismissed an action for a preliminary injunction to prohibit the identifying reporting on a murder suspect (No. [2015] 74 NIQB/26 August 2015).

The plaintiff had been detained on suspicion of the murder of a drug dealer from 27 October 2012 until 30 October 2012. The plaintiff appealed the decision of the court to extend his pre-trial detention. There were reports on the review hearings, and the court’s decision was published without anonymization of the plaintiff. The plaintiff made no effort to prohibit the publication of the verdict or to achieve its anonymization.

Subsequently, newspaper articles were published with the name of the plaintiff, presenting him as a murder suspect, as well as a possible member of a terrorist group. On 28 May 2014, more than seven weeks after the publication of the first article, the plaintiff received a warning from the police.

According to the police, criminals were planning an attack on him. The police asked him to check his personal safety. He received more warnings by the police on 4 June 2014 and 28 July 2014. Therefore, the plaintiff brought an action for an injunction in order to prohibit the publication of other newspaper articles, as he considered that the threats were motivated by the articles.

However, the Court rejected the claim of the plaintiff, since it could not find a link between the death threats and the publications of the articles. According to the court, there existed no evidence, neither from the police nor the plaintiff, which could prove that the publication of the articles caused a substantial increase of the risk for the plaintiff. The police had not given any information to the press to this effect. According to the Court, the police had already issued two warnings to the plaintiff before any article was published. There had been no temporal link between the first two warnings from the police of 28 May 2014 and 4 June 2014 and the publication of the article of 6 April 2014. All this proved that the threats were not motivated by the press articles and existed independently of their publication. Although there was such a temporal relationship between the third police warning of 28 July 2014 and the article published on 27 July 2014. The Court stated that this temporal link was rather caused by the activities of the plaintiff himself, which the article in question had been reporting about. There had been no warnings after the publication of the article of December 2014, such a warning rather had only been pronounced on 3 February 2015. The fourth warning had been made after the assassination of another suspect in the same murder case. The victim had been in contact with the plaintiff, but had not been mentioned in any of the articles in question.

Katrin Welker is a research assistant at the Institute for European Media Law, Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

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The verdict of the High Court of Northern Ireland is available in English language at:

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –