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Northern Ireland: Journalist denounces police failure to investigate threat to rape her baby

Patricia Devlin © Amnesty

A Northern Ireland journalist, who has received death threats and other threats of violence, will today lodge an official complaint with the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland over what she says is a police failure to investigate a threat to rape her baby.

In October 2019, Patricia Devlin, an award-winning crime reporter working for the Sunday World newspaper, received a threat by direct message to her personal Facebook account. The sender threatened to rape her newborn son. It was signed with the name of a neo-Nazi terror group, Combat 18, which in the past has had links to loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

The person suspected to be behind the threat is a convicted criminal, with links to both a loyalist paramilitaries and far-right groups, who is believed to have been involved in violent attacks in Northern Ireland.

One year on from reporting the threat to the PSNI, and frustrated by their lack of action to investigate adequately or even bring the suspect in for questioning, she is making a complaint to the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland, supported by solicitors KRW Law, Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists.

Patricia Devlin, said:

“Because of my job as a journalist, exposing criminals and paramilitaries, I have been on the receiving end of threats of violence and death threats for years. In Northern Ireland, that now seems to go with the territory where press freedom comes at the price of constant and repeated threats to journalists.

“But, when I received a threat to rape my new-born baby, also identifying my grandmother and the location of where the sender believed she lived, I had enough. I reported the threat to the PSNI and was even able to name the individual I suspect was behind the threat.

“The police have had this individual’s name all this time, yet, a year on, no-one has been brought in for questioning, never mind arrested. Meanwhile, the police have given me a constantly changing and contradictory story as to why they have not acted.

“It is not acceptable for journalists to have to live under this sort of constant threat, to themselves and their families, simply for doing their jobs.

“That is why I am making this complaint to the Police Ombudsman today. Not just for me, but for all the reporters who have been receiving these threats, without anyone being held to account. This has to stop.”

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“The threats sent to Patricia Devlin are totally abhorrent and are part of a wider climate of violence which is now undermining press freedom in Northern Ireland.

“Amnesty International has been watching with increasing concern the constant stream of threats being received by journalists in Northern Ireland, designed to shut down press scrutiny of criminal and paramilitary activity.

“The complete failure of the PSNI to properly investigate this case is totally unacceptable. We sincerely hope that this complaint to the Police Ombudsman will help concentrate minds in the PSNI and ensure diligence in bringing these criminals to account.”

Patricia Devlin’s solicitor, Kevin Winters, said:

“For a year, the police have had more than ample evidence to arrest the individual identified right from the start. Explanations provided to date as to why that has not happened border on the farcical. It is incredible that even a letter of complaint earlier this year to the Chief Constable himself has failed to have any impact.

“There has been a systemic failure by the PSNI to advance the investigation expeditiously and meaningfully. My client has been left with no choice but to bring this complaint to the Police Ombudsman.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: 

“That such despicable threats have been made is an outrage, but that the subsequent police investigation has been so ineffectual and flawed is also completely unacceptable. Facilitating impunity for those who choose to threaten, harass and attempt to silence journalists has a collective impact on the journalistic community, one which compounds the awful personal impact on Patricia and her family. The PSNI needs to get a grip and resolve this matter robustly.

“It is deeply disturbing that at a time when accurate and reliable news and information are needed more than ever, journalists are being increasingly targeted, threatened, abused and attacked. The NUJ has raised Patricia’s case and those of other members as part of its work on the UK government’s new National Committee for the Safety of Journalists to underline why urgent action is required to stamp out such harassment.”

Timeline of events:

April 2019: Patricia Devlin's personal details including links to her private Facebook account, email address and other social media profiles posted to online forums. Regular threatening and abusive messages followed.

April 2019: anonymous account on Twitter posted publicly that Patricia Devlin had “target on her back.”

October 2019: threat to Patricia Devlin, via direct message on Facebook, to rape her baby.

April 2020: Patricia Devlin warned by PSNI that loyalists planned to attack her in her car whilst visiting an area where she had been reporting on drug crimes. She was advised by police to not enter the area.

May 2020: threat issued against journalists working for the Sunday Life and the Sunday World newspapers, including Patricia Devlin.

August 2020: Telephone call to Sunday World office for Patricia Devlin, believed to be from suspect.


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