High Court boost for Bloody Sunday reporter

Harden:"will defend my actions"

The Daily Telegraph’s Washington bureau chief, Toby Harnden, whom the Saville inquiry has pursued for the identities of two Parachute Regiment soldiers since 1999, has won a victory in Belfast’s High Court.

Judge Coghlin decided that the inquiry’s proceedings for contempt against Harnden, formerly the paper’s Northern Ireland correspondent, should be treated as criminal.

He accepted Harnden’s argument that the proceedings against him were criminal rather than civil in nature because of the penalties they would incur, including jail.

The decision gives Harnden more protection, the journalist claims, allowing him access to more of the tribunal’s documents.

Harnden told Press Gazette: "Obviously these proceedings are a great concern to me personally and the principles behind my position are important ones for all journalists to stand up for. I’m looking forward to defending my actions as a journalist in the High Court in Belfast and am very confident I will be fully vindicated.

"The protection of confidential journalistic sources is vital to a free society. In Northern Ireland it is also a matter of life and death."

In making his decision, Judge Coghlin took into account the precedent of the jailing of journalists Brendan Mulholland and Reginald Foster, who refused to reveal their sources to the Vassall tribunal in 1963.

Harnden interviewed the ex-Paras about Bloody Sunday and the Telegraph published two articles based on the interviews in May 1999.

In a written statement, Harnden told the inquiry he had given an undertaking to soldiers X and Y that he would do or say nothing which might reveal their identities. He said he had destroyed his notes within days. While accepting that normal practice would be to preserve such records, Harnden said he decided to destroy them to prevent any subsequent disclosure to the tribunal which would have constituted a breach of trust between him and the soldiers.

Lord Saville applied to the High Court in 2000 to find Harnden in contempt, saying it was in the interests of justice for him to identify the soldiers "if accurate information as to their identity cannot be obtained by other means".

Since then, however, Soldier Y has voluntarily identified himself and Harnden believes that the field for identification of Soldier X, who was one of the soldiers who fired shots, has narrowed.

 

By Jean Morgan

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