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Police chief fails in injunction bid against newspaper

George HamiltonA police chief failed in his bid to prevent a daily newspaper from naming a man forensically linked to a notorious massacre – because it had already done so.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable George Hamilton, left, applied for an injunction against the Irish News after it published the alleged owner of a palm print on a van linked to the Kingsmills massacre, in which an IRA gang murdered 10 Protestant workmen in 1976.

The News reported the print belongs to Irish Republican Colm Murphy, one of the men found liable for the 1998 Omagh bombing, after he agreed to be interviewed by the newspaper.

The police application was heard by a judge at Belfast’s High Court in the early hours of Saturday morning, after the story had already appeared on the News’s website on Friday evening.

The move followed a series of phone calls from the Crown Solicitor’s Office to senior staff at the News seeking assurances that the suspect would not be named, with concerns about the potential impact on the ongoing investigation into the massacre cited.

In his interview, Mr Murphy claimed he is being set up over Kingsmills to protect Sinn Fein from embarrassment.

Sitting judge Mr Justice Horner adjourned proceedings to Monday, and counsel for George Hamilton told the rearranged hearing that his bid to secure an injunction was now “pointless”.

Peter Coll QC also stressed that the PSNI will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the paper’s story.

Mr Coll told Mr Justice Horner: “The Chief Constable was not moving simply to try and prevent publication of an interview, the concern was the potential identification of a suspect.”

Referring to the articles that have already appeared online and in print, he added publication “cannot be undone”.

Bernard Fitzpatrick, representing the Irish News, said: “There was no intention in any way to do anything that would impede the investigation.”

Outside court, News editor Noel Doran said: “The police were unable to provide any compelling reason why we should not have published online on Friday night or in print on Saturday morning.

“We were not even contacted about the matter until after 10pm, and even then it was so vague and lacking in legal reason not to publish.”

Noel told HTFP: “We view the outcome of the case as an important one in terms of press freedom.”