PSNI failed injunction against the BBC over new Claudy investigation shows uncertain touch

What was Chief Constable Baggot thinking of when he sought an injunction to try to halt the airing of this week’s BBC Spotlight on the state of a new PSNI investigation into the Claudy bombings? The move has revealed a dramatic revival of police interest in the case after the post-Saville furore that Claudy was one of many atrocities that had been forgotten, a view underscored by DUP MPs in the Commons debate on the Saville report only yesterday.

 I can’t find  the story in the BBC News website.  But according the Irish Times report,  in dismissing the PSNI application the judge said:

Nobody has ever attempted to do this before and no authority has been put before the court anywhere in the UK or indeed elsewhere to support this.” He described it as an unprecedented application, which, if it had succeeded, would have significantly extended the boundaries of existing case law.

The programme’s main new ingredient was a secretly filmed interview with “Man A” who came from the Desertmartin area and drove a car fitting the description of the vehicle which stopped at Dungiven to tell a shopkeeper to warn the police that bombs had been placed in Claudy. He spent 35 years in the US but returned to the Republic in 2007. The police have twice interviewed his estranged wife, according the programme. Man A’s identity is known to the people of Claudy. He himself denied all knowledge of the bombing.

The apparent reason for the legal application was in fact contained in a single sentence towards the end of the programme.

” In a fresh investigation, the police have gone to the United States to question a man detained by the FBI.”

The police’s high sensitivity suggests that they believe this interview could provide them with a significant new lead which revelation in advance could somehow frighten off or otherwise impair, or else prejudice any legal proceedings – an extradition application or even a  trial – when linked to other evidence. Either way, it seems a counter productive overreaction.

Spotlight rehearsed the Father Chesney angle with revealing interviews with the former SB officer who was prevented from arresting the priest and a former IRA man who gave graphic details of Fr Chesney’s alleged IRA activity.

His Culllion parochial house was “ our HQ at the time, the safest house in the parish. He used to watch us (practising making fire bombs) but he never touched anything, he didn’t like to get his hands dirty. It really angers me when people say he wasn’t in the IRA. The people here know he was.”

No direct link between Fr Chesneyand the Claudy bombings was established.

Spotlight reporter Enda McClafferty was given sight of the relevant pages of Cardinal Conway’s diary recounting his controversial meeting with Willie Whitelaw. The cardinal recorded that the So S had been “pleased” to hear that Fr Chesney had been moved to Donegal.

Will the new activity over Claudy set a precedent for many other cases?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London