Prison or death: the choice facing editor with a hotline to the Real IRA

Journalist tells court she fears for her life if she is forced to hand over information about paramilitaries

A journalist told a court yesterday that she faced being assassinated by republican terrorists if she complied with a police demand to hand over notes which could identify members of the Real IRA.

Suzanne Breen, the Belfast-based northern editor of the Sunday Tribune, received the Real IRA claim of responsibility for the murders of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, who were killed at the gates of Massereene barracks in Antrim on 7 March. She later conducted an interview with a member of the group.

Police are demanding under the Prevention of Terrorism Act that she hand over her computer, telephones, notes and any other material relating to two stories she wrote about the Real IRA in the wake of the killings.

If the court rules that she must hand over the notes and she refuses, she faces being sent to prison for five years.

Ms Breen told the Belfast Recorders Court that the dissident republicans would regard any co-operation by her as an "act of collaboration" with British forces. Her legal team said her right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights had to be respected.

She said the Real IRA was "more than capable" of murdering her and her family if she co-operated. She said a contact connected to the Real IRA had told her: "You know what co-operation with the PSNI means."

She said the message could only represent a death threat to her and her family and she was not prepared "to place my life at risk and that of my 14-month-old child and my partner".

In an article, Ms Breen said: "I face up to five years imprisonment for not complying with police demands. I believe the PSNI's action is politically motivated. The force is under huge pressure to be seen to be doing something post-Massereene. It's much easier to go after the messenger than those behind the message. Another objective could be to discourage other journalists from covering controversial stories and interviewing republican dissidents." Ms Breen told the court that the National Union of Journalists code of conduct made it clear that confidentiality for sources should always be protected. "Our job is to gather information and put it in the public domain," she said.

A campaign in support of her refusal to hand over material has grown in recent weeks with hundreds of journalists, academics and figures in the arts signing a petition organised by the National Union of Journalists.

Prominent journalists including the former Mirror editor Roy Greenslade, BBC Panorama's John Ware and the Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke have given evidence for Ms Breen.

Ms Breen's case has wider ramifications for press freedom. Amnesty International has written to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward, expressing "serious concerns" about the case, which it said highlighted the risks to investigative journalism.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's Northern Ireland director, said: "There are concerns here about possible violation of Suzanne Breen's human rights. By using anti-terrorism legislation and the use of secret evidence, the government has deprived her of the right to challenge evidence used against her."

Judge Tom Burgess, the Recorder for Belfast, is to deliver his ruling next week. Colin Duffy, a dissident republican from Lurgan, Co Armagh, has been charged with killing the two soldiers.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future