Page last updated at 10:20 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 11:20 UK

Judge undecided on Real IRA case

Ms Breen spoke about the ruling outside court

A judge has said he is "minded" to grant a police application to force a journalist to hand over material she used in two articles on the Real IRA.

However, he said his view could change once he heard Sunday Tribune northern editor Suzanne Breen's legal case.

She refused to comply with the police's request, saying her life could be in danger and she must protect sources.

The journalist received the Real IRA's claim of responsibility for the murder of two soldiers at Antrim in March.

Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, from London, were shot dead as they collected pizzas outside Massereene Army base in Antrim on 7 March.

I have a totally open mind as to where this case is going to end up
Judge Tom Burgess

Police said they would use all possible legal means "to access information which may assist their inquiries".

Ms Breen's lawyers also claimed any compliance could threaten her right to life under the European Convention, pointing out how dissident republicans have threatened anyone offering assistance to the Crown.

Following a police application heard in private last Friday, Judge Tom Burgess said he may make the order sought, based on what he had been told so far.

He told Belfast Recorder's Court: "If I heard absolutely nothing else in this case, I would be minded to take a particular step."

However, the judge stressed that no decision has yet been taken.

With Ms Breen's lawyers still to put forward their reasons for rejecting the application, he assured her barrister: "Where I will be after I hear your argument could be in a completely different place altogether.

"I have a totally open mind as to where this case is going to end up."

Private

The judge said he has written up and sealed in an envelope what he heard in private from the police witness and the reasons for his ruling.

He said this ruling could then be read by the judges in the event of any appeal.

The case will be heard in public, except that portion of the evidence relating to the progress of the police investigation.

Ms Breen was told she had a week to prepare her defence to the police application. The case will be heard on 29 May.

Speaking outside, Ms Breen said she was in the "impossible situation" of trying to mount a defence, when she did not know the nature of the police's evidence to the court.

Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said if the case were lost it would set a precedent where journalists could not protect their sources, something that "would be bad for society".



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