Britain 'shoots messenger' on death squads
By Catherine Brown
LONDON — Channel 4 television has been heavily fined in an attempt by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to force disclosure of the source for an expose on an "inner force" in the RUC and loyalist community.
Channel 4 ran the program, The Committee, made by independent producers Box Productions, on October 2, 1991.
"Source A" was interviewed in the program, in silhouette, with his words spoken by an actor. He revealed the existence of the Ulster Central Coordinating Committee, which he alleged includes members of the RUC, the Ulster Defence Regiment, solicitors, businessmen, councillors and leading figures of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association — 60 members in all.
Under the UCCC's direction, inner force police helped loyalist paramilitaries to assassinate republicans. Gunmen were provided with information and photographs of their targets, and sometimes even with transport. In the last two years, 20 republicans have been victims of these death squads.
Collusion between security forces and the loyalist paramilitary groups in northern Ireland is no secret. But the Channel 4 program argued such collusion was "institutionalised and entrenched".
BBC's Panorama program has since alleged that the Brian Nelson case (of a British army agent who set up sectarian killings) showed evidence of British military intelligence exploiting informers among loyalist paramilitaries to target republicans.
In 1989 the Prevention of Terrorism Act was amended to give police sweeping powers to seize journalistic material. This was used for the first time in the RUC's effort to force the Channel 4 journalists to reveal their sources.
The director of public prosecutions called on the judge to force Channel 4 to act on the original court order to reveal Source A's identity by "imperil(ing) the continued existence" of the station. The DPP argued for the sequestration of Channel 4's assets, or a fine so hefty this major network would go bankrupt.
On July 31, Lord Justice Woolf enforced a A$187,500 fine. The decision was "a victory", Tim Gopsill, spokesperson for the National Union of Journalists told Green Left Weekly: "The source was not betrayed and the court pulled back from sequestrating the funds".
Nonetheless, "it will make investigative journalism on northern Ireland more difficult", said Gopsill.
Michael Grade, a Channel 4 executive, said the court's decision will and a no-go area". Undoubtedly, one of the government's intentions was to achieve just that.
Sean McPhilery, managing director of Box Productions, has demanded that "instead of trying to punish the messengers, the government should listen to the message and hold a full public inquiry".