'Substantial' libel payout from NUJ to Suzanne Breen

Investigative journalist Suzanne Breen has won libel damages from the National Union of Journalists over an article about her which appeared in union magazine – The Journalist.

Union member Breen was backed by the NUJ in a legal battle with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2009 which had sought to force her to disclose information which could lead to exposing the identity of sources in the Real IRA terrorist group.

Breen had received the Real IRA’s claim of responsibility for shooting dead two soldiers at the gates of Massereene Army Base in Antrim. She also interviewed a member of the group.

She refused to hand over phone records and notes to police and in June 2009 a judge upheld her right to do so saying that to hand over the information would endanger her life.

Breen, who was Northern Ireland editor of the now closed Sunday Tribune newspaper, began defamation proceedings against the NUJ after union mag The Journalist published comments about her stance in the Real IRA sources case.

The case was due to go to trial at the High Court in Belfast but was settled at the eleventh hour.

The outcome is subject to a confidentiality agreement – but her lawyer Paul Tweed told the BBC that she had taken the case with “the greatest of reluctance”.

Speaking outside the cour yesterday he said: ‘Such was the gravity and outrageous nature of the offending allegations, which not only sought to undermine her professional integrity, but also could have prejudiced her personal security and that of her young family, that she was left with no choice but to issue these defamation proceedings.”

The agreement is understood to include a retraction, apology, substantial damages and payment of legal costs.

Tweed told the BBC: ‘My client believes that her actions will not only have totally vindicated her own reputation, but will also serve to protect other journalists from being put in a similar unsatisfactory position in the future, in circumstances where total impartiality and independence are of vital and fundamental importance to their professional standing.”

The NUJ said in a statement: “The National Union of Journalists has agreed to pay a substantial sum to Suzanne Breen in a confidential settlement of her libel action against the union. The action arose from publication of a letter from a member published in the September/October 2009 edition of The Journalist.

“The union had issued a retraction and public apology to Ms Breen in October 2009. “

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