RUC denied attempt to hand over riot pictures


 A court ruling denying an Royal Ulster Constabulary attempt to force television companies and newspapers to hand over film and pictures of rioting has been hailed as a landmark judgment.

The RUC issued writs under the recently introduced Terrorism Act against 13 media organisations seeking pictures and film of rioting at Ardoyne in north Belfast last July.

It is believed to be the first attempt by police in the UK to use the act, introduced after the Omagh bombing, against the press.

The organisations, which included ITN, The Belfast Telegraph, The Irish News, PA, Sky News, UTV and Reuters, opposed the application.

Judge Tom Burgess held that, for the most part, rioting did not amount to terrorism and therefore did not come within the terms of the Terrorism Act.

However the judge did not dismiss the police application entirely, holding that the use of blast bombs would form part of a "terrorist investigation".

Noel Doran, editor of the Irish News, said the original application was "very questionable. Not only did they want photographs and film, but all notebooks. That is a ludicrous state of affairs."

Counsel for the RUC clarified the application to take in just pictures.

But said Doran: "Our photographs wouldn’t have been any real assistance to them. But the precedent that they can come in and take our pictures would have been set and that would have left newspapers in a very difficult position the next time we went to cover some disturbance."

Some news organisations were eager not to crow about the court decision because of sensitivities aroused by the American bombings.

But a senior figure in one of the news organisations said: "The important point is the judge has made a distinction between general hooliganism and terrorism. From now on, the prosecution will have to show that real terrorism has happened before they can make us hand over our pictures."

Paul Spring, partner in the solicitors firm Mills Selig, which represented RTE, ITN, Reuters and Sky News in the case, said that because of the judgement "the Police will have to be more selective when they make this sort of application in the future."

The RUC were this week still considering whether they would refine their application and return to the court.

By Martin McNamara

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