A convicted robber failed yesterday in a legal bid to have a newspaper banned from reporting his alleged links to murder and dissident republican terrorism.
In a major endorsement of press freedom, a High Court judge refused to grant Brendan Conway an injunction against the Sunday World.
Mr Justice Gillen said: “It is in the public interest that investigative journalism should not be impeded where it is publishing legitimate information concerning serious criminal activity.”
Conway, a 39-year-old from north Belfast, claimed he had been vilified and harassed by a series of sensationalist and false articles. Allegations detailed in court included:
• That he is a Real IRA boss who headed up a tiger kidnapping gang.
• That he was responsible for the murder of drug dealer Kevin Kearney in the city last October.
• That he is a Special Branch agent who supplied bugged cars to other dissidents.
Conway acknowledges he is a republican who took part in a protest against prison conditions endured by Lurgan man Colin Duffy and others.
But he denies all of the newspaper claims, contending that they have put his life in danger.
Police have issued two threat warnings about a planned gun attack on him since the first of four articles was published last October.
He has also been assaulted, abused in the street for being an informer and forced into hiding, the court heard.
He accused the newspaper of malicious falsehood and misuse of private information.
With libel proceedings issued, Conway was seeking an interim injunction to restrain any further publication of his alleged activities.
His legal team argued that the threats against him were due to the newspaper reports.
They contended that freedom of expression rights must give way to protecting his life.
But the Sunday World defended the proceedings by insisting that Conway should be denied an injunction because of his alleged association with dissident republicans.
Lawyers for the newspaper warned that imposing a ban on reporting his alleged activities would have a chilling effect on attempts to expose an underworld of drugs and murder.
In his ruling Mr Justice Gillen rejected all grounds on which the injunction was sought, including harassment, right to privacy and malicious falsehood.
Despite being satisfied of a real and immediate risk to Conway’s life, he found the threat was not due to the Sunday World focus on him
The judge listed other evidence of Conway’s alleged close association with crime and leading dissident republicans. It included his conviction and imprisonment for a robbery closely associated to a £250,000 tiger kidnapping plot and a series of separate media reports.