Abuse victim accuses the Sunday Tribune – and the Tribune’s reply

Update at 15 15 pm. Earlier today, Belfast solicitors issued a statement on behalf of an alleged child abuse victim accusing the Sunday Tribune of breach of trust ( see lawyer’s statment below the fold). This afternoon in the following statement, The Sunday Tribune stood by its story.

“Sinn Fein has claimed that the Sunday Tribune, in its coverage of the sex abuse cover-up in the republican movement, is engaged in a campaign to smear the party and its president Gerry Adams. This is simply untrue. We would pursue any political party and its leader with equal vigour given the information we have unearthed. In relation to last Sunday’s edition and Sinn Fein’s allegation of manipulation of one of two victims who spoke to our Northern Editor Suzanne Breen, we categorically stand by our story and our treatment of the abuse survivors involved.

It is being claimed by Sinn Fein and by one of the women, whose identity was not revealed in the Sunday Tribune, that Mr Adams did not know of the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of a Sinn Fein elected representative. This is directly at odds with the information we were given and we have proof of this.” (statement continues below the fold)

“The Sunday Tribune was approached in the first instance by this victim’s brother who stated in writing that Gerry Adams had been personally informed about the allegations of sexual and physical abuse against an elected Sinn Fein member over two years ago. Ms Breen subsequently interviewed the victim at length in the presence of her brother and a photographer. The claim that Gerry Adams knew of the abuse was repeatedly made by both the victim and her brother at this meeting which took place on Wednesday January 5 2010.

The victim offered to pose for photographs and photographs were taken in front of a wall mural.

In follow-up telephone conversations before the publication of the article in the Sunday Tribune, the story, as it would appear in the newspaper, including the allegations against Gerry Adams, was read to both the victim and her brother. They both agreed it was an honest and accurate account of the interview.

Last Saturday, January 16 2010, the victim, through the solicitors Madden and Finucane, claimed she had never given permission for the interview or allegations to be used. Although consent was freely given by the victim, the Sunday Tribune respected her decision to withdraw consent for her identity to be revealed and ran the story without identifying her.

The other abuse victim, the grand niece of Joe Cahill, has issued a statement to the Sunday Tribune confirming that she was not manipulated into giving an interview. She said: “Sinn Fein has stated that Gerry Adams refutes the allegations I made. Gerry Adams first spoke to me about my case in August 2000. I had meetings with him at which I expressed my feelings on the way I was being treated until 2006. I eventually ended the interviews because they were going nowhere and I believed they were pointless.

“Sinn Fein has said it is considering suing the Sunday Tribune. If Sinn Fein is challenging the truth of my story, let them sue me. I thank the Sunday Tribune for interviewing me in a highly sensitive way – and for the support I received afterwards. To date, since my story was printed, no-one from Sinn Fein has contacted me to offer the same. I am also making a statement later today to the Rape Crisis Centre on this issue.”

Noirin Hegarty,
Editor, Sunday Tribune”

What now? Grounds for legal action or a complaint to the new Irish Press Ombudsman and Council or the UK Press Complaints Commission?

Below is the statement to which the Tribune has replied.

Media Statement on behalf of the victim of abuse by person named “X” by the Sunday Tribune:
“I feel very let down by the decision of the Sunday Tribune to publish my interview with Suzanne Breen on 17th January 2009. At no time did I give permission for any details of the sexual abuse I suffered as a child to be published. The editor of the Sunday Tribune gave me an assurance through my solicitors that I would not be identified as someone who has made allegations to the police regarding sexual abuse.

Due to the publication of the Sunday Tribune article I have been easily identified within my local community as being the victim of sexual abuse. I have suffered immense hurt, upset and distress as a result of the publication, and I feel that I have been manipulated by the newspaper. My legal protections of anonymity under the criminal law and my right to private life under the European Convention on Human Rights have been flagrantly breached. Neither my local community nor my family were aware that I was a victim of sexual abuse before the publication of the Sunday Tribune article.

My primary concerns are for the well being of my children and immediate family and that justice against my abuser is able to take its course without any interference”.

C/o Michael Madden
Madden & Finucane Solicitors

  • This is a strange twist. Why did she give the Sunday Tribune an interview and why did she reveal such details?

  • OscarTheGrouch

    And why did she decide to go through solicitors at the last minute to have the story quashed? (rhetorical question….)

  • berryscherry

    I wonder how much truth is there in the story doing the rounds regarding a female journalist once employed by the irishnews, now being championed by the bbc, and challenged by victims of abuse for her print work, that she spray painted the front of her employers business after being jil;ted by her former lover. I intend to make a foi request to the bbc to see how much they have paid this person for her contributions to their programes. As a licence payer I am not happy the bbc pays money, or invites people responsible for exposing victims of sexual abuse, to participate on their forums. It would appear hell hath no fury

  • jtwo

    But surely this must be a fabrication?

    After all we assured on this blog yesterday that anonymity wasn’t anything to worry about.

    In law it doesn’t matter why she wanted her anonymity preserved.

    If she did, that’s the end of it. There’s no public interest defence for identifying a sexual abuse complainant. As I tried to explain at length yesterday as Slugger’s crack team of saloon bar lawyers piled in.

  • Mick Fealty

    My understanding is that the Tribune will respond this afternoon…

    Let’s just keep the speculation down to a low din please?

  • Jaggers

    Indeed what were the highly regarded firm of Madden and Finucane doing in advising her with respect to media exposure before any possible court case? And having read the article in the Tribune, I was not able to identify the alleged victim but I was able to identify the alleged perpetrator, so I guess that one cuts both ways.

    I’m struggling to remember a criminal matter attracting so much comment and speculation prior to any trial in recent times. The political angle of course encourages that but surely the criminal aspect and justice for alleged victim and alleged perpetrator are paramount and trump reporting and speculation prior to any trial?

    Again, there is obviously a huge store of questions being asked and waiting to be asked but if these questions encourage speculation and indeed comment and judgement from people close to the case, does that not substantially risk there being a proper trial?

  • Marcionite

    I agree. If she didn’t want details published or given the whisper of danger if publication, then why speak to a newspaper? Questions: was she under duress to speak but sought assurances of anonymity? :

    if any victims read this, please be aware, Journalists don’t do confidential confessions. They are in it for themselves. Don’t be under the illusion they care about u. U r just another story, a stepping stone to their glittering prize. Speak to them by all means if u want to and need to but be prepared for identification, WBelfast too close knit. I wish the victims the best of luck and I hope your issues achieve justice.

  • alf

    this is a turn up, bit of a disgrace

  • My sympathy is with the lady but she opened Pandoras box, knowing the press would run with a story like this. Her alleged abuser might have hidden behind the same anonymity meant to protect the victim had the press not taken the action seemingly lacking elsewhere.

    I wish the lady well and hope she and her family are getting all the help and support they need.

  • jtwo

    Jaggers you need to consider the legal concept of jigsaw identification which happened when the Irish News went full blast on the case.

    Leaving aside any future prejudice of a case ID-ing an abuse complainant is a straightforward contempt of court.

  • jtwo

    If the press had been a bit more careful the anonymity problems would never have arisen.

    If the cruelty allegation alone (which were shocking enough) had been reported and the sexual aspects left to one side the whole problem of ID-ing a sexual abuse complainant would not have arisen.

  • Mick Fealty

    Right guys, sorry for taking the thread off temporarily, but my connection where I am is not the most consistent at the moment.

    This is an important discussion and I am happy for it to take place, but let’s just remember there are potentially grave legal matters pertaining.

  • John Joe

    I think this was always likely to head in this direction. If you look at previous cases (e.g. Vincent McKenna) there was no public domain issue until he was convicted, which made public debate easy and clear cut.
    Presumably, the Tribune won’t be in contempt of court as it is published in Dublin and this case is in NI (other people will have a better handle on the legal technalities). In effect, the Tribune won’t be able to make a substantive response beyond an apology unless they challenge Xs statement. Either way this story is going to unfold in unexpected directions now.

  • Scaramoosh

    “a straightforward contempt of court.”

    The case has not gone to court, so there is no contempt.

  • If the alleged victim had asked for the sexual aspect of the case to be withheld by the press, then I can think of no reason why it was not.

    The claims were serious enough to make headlines without them.

    I believe the Tribune commented that permission had been given and then withdrawn after, what they called ‘pressure’ was applied.

  • jtwo

    It’s a de facto contempt of court as only the AG can bring proceedings.

    The Tribune better have that permission in writing as a verbal assurance doesn’t satify the law.

    Furthermore written consent is not a defence if it is proved thatsomeone interfered unreasonably with the peace or comfort of the person giving the consent, with intent to obtain it.

  • heamaisbharney

    If pressure was applied on the victim after she had given her consent, and obviously her story to The Tribune, I can’t help pondering on who applied the pressure and whether this latest twist will actually dig the hole deeper for those applying the pressure. Presumably all aspects of the story, including who, individually or as a party figure, acted or did not act properly and on it goes.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    So we have the situation where Suzanne Breen has effectively taken it upon herself to report criminal activity and seemingly ignoring the feelings of the alleged victim.
    This would be the very same Suzanne Breen who a few months ago was in court defending her right NOT to give evidence relating to a crime. And the bravest and best of Belfast journistic community is outside Laganside Court cheering on our intrepid Suzanne.
    Journalistic “ethics” is an odd concept anyway.
    Ms Breen seems to want it both ways.
    The story comes first.
    Victims dont matter.
    In seeking to have her rights the alleged victim calls in the lawyers.
    In seeking to have her rights Breen did the same.
    Will our brave local journos support the victim of abuse? Or look after their own?
    Will Paddy Power gve us odds on that one?

    Journalist 101…if a dodgy politician goes “off the record” respec his wishes.
    If a victim of sex abuse does the same, dont respect her wishes.
    Gin and tonics all round. Another victory for the Press.

  • Mick Fealty

    Right lads, keep it decent. There is a strong public interest in this issue (which is why I am keeping this thread open as a long as is practical), but you will find yourself bounced unceremoniously off this site if it turns into a revenge thread.

    We ALL have a very thin line to tread here.

  • Damian O’Loan


    “Furthermore written consent is not a defence if it is proved thatsomeone interfered unreasonably with the peace or comfort of the person giving the consent, with intent to obtain it.”

    How would that principle operate in the converse situation? I presume the interference has to be proved first, but this is from the Tribune’s editorial:

    “She posed for photographs in Belfast and after being read the contents of the story by Breen, agreed completely with it and with its publication. Forty-eight hours ago this woman was happy to be identified and to put her case about Sinn Féin cover-ups. However, under intense pressure yesterday she withdrew her consent at the eleventh hour and sought, through the Belfast solicitors’ firm Madden and Finucane, to have no details published whatsoever.

    Today we honour her request for anonymity, but we publish the horrifying details of what she says happened to her as a child and how she alleges Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams failed to act.”

    I can see there is a dispute around anonymity – I couldn’t have identified the victim, but perhaps others more closely connected might explain what were the revealing phrases in the articles. Perhaps not if this affects a matter sub judice.

    I quite agree with the sentiment of what you are saying, I think the dispute centres around who is better serving the interests of the victim, and how.

    Incidentally, despite the publication of the alleged offender’s identity, I don’t know how many children X had nor do I wish to know exactly. Not that that individual’s plight is of no concern, but rather it’s more primary that there is an alleged victim at all than who that alleged victim is.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s not subjudice since there is no court case, but please do not to replicate text here whilst the dispute roars on elsewhere.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Apologies, yet again..

  • jtwo

    In the converse media law doesn’t apply – you’d be looking at different criminal statutes around things like intimidation.

    The key is the jigsaw identification – the complainants identity was utterrly compromised once the Irish News exposed the alleged offender.

  • sluggisht

    The key is the jigsaw identification – the complainants identity was utterrly compromised once the Irish News exposed the alleged offender.

    Who were approached by the complainants themselves.

    Something smells here, and it isn’t the Tribune’s handling of the story.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • Paul

    Something smells here, and it isn’t the Tribune’s handling of the story.
    Posted by sluggisht on Jan 19, 2010 @ 02:07 PM

    yes indeed it does smell you are spot on.

  • In an area where everyone knows each other, the subject of anonymity becomes difficult, if not impossible, to impose. I have no idea who the victim is and could not have identified the accused from the articles I read, but then I am have never lived in that area and am many miles from it now.

    Perhaps the courts take too much upon themselves when they impose anonymity on a small community, who were bound to recognise both victim and accused,

    This is not to say that, if permission was not granted, the Tribunal should have published the sex abuse allegations, just that it would always have been difficult to maintain the anonymity she wants, even if the case had gone to court with no media exposure.

  • jtwo

    Somebody appoint pippakin to the NI Law Commission immediately where such rigorous thinking will be very welcome.

  • jtwo

    I would thank you but.., in fact I will thank you. heavy handed sarcasm whilst not exactly welcome, is, nevertheless a diversion, mind you is not sarcasm supposed to be subtle? Oh well keep trying.

    It could be said I have a talent for stating the blindingly obvious, but if it was not pointed out to the victim her anonymity would be at risk no matter what, if she was not already aware of that, then it should have been.

  • Mr Crowley

    The shinners are claiming, in a disgustingly self-serving and hypocritical statement, that the victim is to sue the Sunday Tribune. As yet there is no alternative confirmation that this is the case and there appears to be no word of pending court action in the legal statement or indeed Ardoyne Republican’s blog.


  • Ulick

    I couldn’t have identified the victim, but perhaps others more closely connected might explain what were the revealing phrases in the articles.

    ‘Ardoyne’, ‘daughter of a legendary Belfast IRA commander’, ‘her father was in prison and her mother had died from cancer two years earlier’

    It was pretty obvious to me and I’m not from Belfast who the alleged victim is. I would also strongly suspect that the Tribune wanted us to know who she is as the strength of the two stories (from the ST point of view) lies in closely associating the victims with senior republican figures i.e. ‘this is how they’ve treated their own’.

    However if you take out the three phrases mentioned above all you are left with is another shocking story of child abuse and the obvious question then is why did the RUC, Social Services, PSNI not act to protect this child or act on the later allegations?

    Sadly it seems that X has become a causality to journalistic arrogance.

  • Mr Crowley

    It will be interesting if she does, the court case would definitely be ‘no holds barred’.

    In all this I hope the victim is being guided by people with her best interests at heart. I am not sure that is the case.

  • jack

    MICK ,be in no doubt that the tribune can and will respond.Solicitors can only take instructions and give advice on the basis of what they have been told by their clients.However if they are not in possession of all the facts,they too can be hung out to dry.

  • Elf-een

    It seems this victims interests were not being met by the ST who seen this poor girls plight at entertainment at best and was used for anothers aim at worst. What I dont understand is legal aspects aside from a purely humanitarian standing why Ms Breen didnt pull the aspects the victim was unhappy with. To be honest from a readers viewpoint it didnt add anything to the story and it obviously distressed the victim so why?
    I know we often poke at what kind of people reporters are but surely they’re not this cold and calculating that they would put a headline above the interests of a damaged child.