By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
The BBC is to hand over broadcast and unbroadcast material from a documentary series about Northern Ireland’s Troubles to the police as part of investigations into terrorist activity, a judge has said.
An order was made at Belfast Crown Court following agreement between the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and BBC on material in the Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History series, which was first broadcast in 2019.
The material includes interviews with Patrick Ryan, a Catholic priest, who told the programme he had maintained a network of Europe-wide contacts used to generate arms and money for the IRA.
It also features interviews with convicted killer Laurence Maguire about his involvement with the Mid-Ulster UVF.
A PSNI lawyer told the court there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the material is likely to be of use to terrorist investigations.
Judge Neil Rafferty praised counsel for both the BBC and the PSNI for reaching accommodation on what material should be handed over in what he said has been a long-running case.
He said: “I remind myself of my obligations under the Terrorism Act. The following conditions must be satisfied…
“That the order is sought for the purposes of a terrorist investigation.
“Having read and considered the papers and evidence, I am satisfied that it is for the purpose of a terrorist investigation.
“That there are reasonable grounds for believing the material is likely to be of substantial value to a terrorist investigation.
“I am satisfied there is reasonable belief that it would be of substantial value in the investigation.
“Lastly is the public interest test. It is a balancing act to be carried out in difficult circumstances often. There is a need to protect the public from terrorist activity.
“The Article 10 rights of free and investigative journalism are significantly to be respected.
“In a world of fake news, false allegations and the restrictions on certain media outlets worldwide, we welcome living in a free state protected by those who can point out things that sometimes are not convenient to be pointed out.
“In respect to material that is identified to me, I am satisfied that, given the nature of the material and the spirit in which the order has been drawn up, I am satisfied the public interest is in favour of granting an order in the following terms.”
The judge continued: “Within 21 days the BBC shall produce the following material to the PSNI, insofar as they are held by the BBC arising out of episodes three, six and eight of the BBC’s Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History, first broadcast in 2019.
“All broadcast and unbroadcast recordings of interviews of Patrick Ryan, insofar as those interviews relate to his involvement of suspect acts of IRA terrorism.
“All broadcast and unbroadcast recordings of interviews of Laurence Maguire insofar as those interviews relate to his involvement in suspected acts of terrorism in connection with Mid Ulster UVF.
“Any right of reply letters sent to Alan Oliver in advance of the sixth programme of the series.
“These materials are only to be used for the purposes of a terrorist investigation and any subsequent prosecution and are to be retained by the PSNI.”