The northern editor of the Sunday Tribune Suzanne Breen said she felt further vindicated by a ruling yesterday on legal costs in her case against the PSNI police.
She had previously won a legal battle with the PSNI who had been trying to force her to surrender information about the ‘Real IRA’ and effectively silence her newspaper’s coverage of events in the North.
The journalist said the case should have been dropped sooner by the PSNI after the authorities were ordered to pay 75 per cent of her costs. She said: “This is an endorsement of the freedom of the press and hopefully will mean the PSNI never again put another journalist and another newspaper in this position.”
Ms Breen spoke out after Belfast Recorder Judge Tom Burgess ruled the PSNI should pay three-quarters of costs she incurred by resisting an application to order her to hand over a mobile telephone, computer records and notes on the group.
The PSNI had sought the material from Ms Breen as part of their investigation into the killing of two soldiers in March.
Judge Burgess dismissed the police application in June because it would breach the journalist’s human rights to force her to betray her sources. Following that decision, Ms Breen returned to court to seek an order that her costs in the case should be met by the PSNI.
In his judgment, the judge said PSNI would have been aware when making the application that she was arguing her life would be at risk if she complied.
He concluded the PSNI would clearly have assessed this risk.
“I am satisfied that from an early stage it would have been clear to them what those risks were and that I have no evidence in front of me to suggest that at any stage they intended to challenge that factual backdrop by production of evidence of their own,” he said.
Outside the court, Ms Breen’s solicitor, Joe Rice, also expressed delight at the ruling and disclosed the potential financial burden she had been facing.
He said: “It’s a significant judgment in favour of Ms Breen and totally vindicates the stance she took throughout the application by the PSNI.
“Her costs, and the Sunday Tribune’s costs, in this case as a result of the way police dealt with the case would be at least over fifty thousand pounds.”