Northern Ireland: Journalist Patricia Devlin threatens legal action against PSNI for failing to investigate threats

Patricia Devlin

Northern Ireland journalist Patricia Devlin has written to the Chief Constable of the PSNI threatening legal action unless he provides assurances that the PSNI will conduct an immediate and effective investigation of violent threats made against her and her baby son.

The pre-action protocol letter, issued by her lawyers KRW Law, puts Chief Constable Simon Byrne on notice that unless such assurances are provided, an application for legal proceedings by way of judicial review will be made to the High Court.

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 new-born 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.

Since then the PSNI has failed to progress its investigation into who posted the threat, to liaise effectively with Police Scotland where the alleged offender is apparently living, or to inform Ms Devlin of developments in the investigation.

Ms Devlin, who is supported by Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists, is seeking assurances that the PSNI will immediately investigate these violent threats and keep her informed of progress, and that her family are safe. Should the PSNI be not be able to, or decide not to, provide such assurances then Ms Devlin will apply for a judicial review of the PSNI decision.

Kevin Winters, Solicitor and Senior Partner, KRW said:

“The violent threat to our client and her baby son posted by social media must be subject to an immediate effective investigation by the PSNI. No progress appears to have been made since Patricia Devlin reported the threat and the PSNI have been inadequate in its responsibilities toward her and her family in terms of securing their safety and keeping them informed of progress. Judicial Review will be applied for should the assurance requested by our client be not forthcoming.”

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

“It is incredible that Patricia Devlin is having to resort to legal action to ensure a proper investigation by the PSNI into threats against her and her family. Amnesty International stands by her and other journalists in Northern Ireland who face a rising climate of threat and intimidation.”

Seamus Dooley, NUJ Assistant General-Secretary, said:

“It is regrettable that a journalist should be forced to consider taking legal action to secure police action. The union remains concerned about the apparent lack of action in this case, which has broader implications in Northern Ireland. No one should be allowed to threaten journalists with impunity.”

A response from the PSNI is required by 10 December 2020.

Last month, Patricia Devlin lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland over the PSNI failure to investigate the threats. Ms Devlin and Amnesty International have written to Police Scotland asking for their assistance.

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