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?

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  • joeCanuck

    Brian,

    The same sort of thinking by the CC which led to the PSNI’s attempt to use the Court to force Suzanne Breen to hand over her personal notes.

  • Alan Maskey

    Surely the main focus here should be on the RUC. Who is being protected? Surely not an MP who was a prominent PIRA member in his younger days.
    Though PIRA are mostly thickos, one would have imagined they would have not broadcast using Chesney’s house to the four winds. The PIRA man’s evidence, if it is credible, implies Chesney let his house be used as a safe house.
    The emergence of this new evidence, if such it is, shows, yet again, that all the players are not dead. Ian Milne, who has a wateritght alibi, being banged up in the Bog at the time, should comw forward and say what he knows.
    Gerry Adams, now that he has told his flock to tout post GFA, should go the last little bit and tell his mate to tell all.

    Anyway, it is good that the hunt goes on. Let’s hope we find out who did it.

  • DC

    Time to civilianise the police and move it beyond politicisation.

    The RUC were politicised, 50:50 is just re-politicising it all over again – more focus on community policing is needed where locals and communities can police themselves, rather than be ‘policed with’.

  • Alan Maskey

    Martin McGuinness does not come out of this well. He should offer himself up for intensive interrogation about Claudy and similar atrocities. Until he does, he has no credibility and his victims’ families have no closure.
    The victims want someone to be a man about it, to come forward and tell the truth. Provos don’t do Truth. Ask Gerry.

  • joeCanuck

    That’s not a bad idea, DC, if dubious characters can be effectively screened out.
    We have an interesting system here. Take Ontario; many small towns and large cities have their own police services. Then the is the OPP who patrol the highways and rural areas and may also be hired by small towns who don’t want the hassle of running their own outfit. The RCMP is a national force principally responsible for drug invfestigations and diplomatic stuff but also can be used by Provinces or Territories as their Provincial force. We have our secret service too, CSIS, who conduct the usual at home and abroad. Sounds unwieldy but it works. If a town force cannot handle a major investigation, they call in the Provincial Police.

  • joeCanuck

    BTW, did they finally allocate money for a new police training college?

  • jtwo

    Here’s the BBC version

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11681785

    Their internal search engine doesn’t work. Use google, but put site:bbc.co.uk before the search term to find stuff.

  • “In a fresh investigation, the police have gone to the United States ..”

    This looks like an incredibly stupid and irresponsible action by the Spotlight team.

  • joeCanuck

    Difficult decision, Nevin, to self-censor. But perhaps if the PSNI hadn’t been so heavy handed in rushing to the court, they might have just said a new line of investigation is being pursued.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    It was an odd sort of programme filled with enough innuendo and nudges and winks to derail police investigation without actually getting closer to the Truth.

    As always, the victims came out of this story much better than any other person. Although I am relunctant to say so I think the victims (there were three interviewed) might have been better chosen to reflect the victims of that day. This possibly reflects the relunctance of some victims to re-visit it all….but there was at least a risk of the programme politicising the murders in an unwitting way.

    Some people came out of the programme rather well. Others less so.
    Martin McGuinness did not appear and yetcame out of it badly. I dont think it was organised from Derry City where other things were happening that day. But the nod/wink was that the bomb took pressure off Derry City (and might have been encouraged from there) .
    Francie Brolly …..from one side of the mountain …came out of the programme well. He is of course at ease with cameras etc but yet he appeared confident without being brash or insensitive.
    “A” from the other side of the mountain did not ome out of it well. His performance was indignant (and perhaps an innocent man is entitled to that) but also insensitive. Look on the other side of the mountain he told us.
    We are told his identity is known to victims. With enough clues thrown around…..orange VW, seperation, USA and local rumour, his name is probably better known today. Was long term justice served as a result? I doubt it.
    The police did not come out of it well. As always the “Brass” takes the heat.
    Fr Chesney did not come out of it well……but even if its a good story which has taken hold……he did not actually strike me as a IRA leader. Rather he struck me as a fantasist on the fringes of things……a wannabee or low level operative who had the distinct advantage of having the safest house in the country.
    And the much maligned Catholic Church came out of it rather well.
    Not so William Whitelaw.

    Yet he is the only man who had connexions on both sides of the mountain. And therein lies what I believe to be the Claudy story. That the IRA in Claudy/Feeny/Dungiven did NOT organise it. Joining the dots its more likely they were in and around Derry City that day.
    Which makes it more likely that the people involved were South Derry Brgade trying to take heat off the city…..encroaching into another area. The IRA (and obviously its pecial pleading and as useful or useless as we care to believe) stated no local unit was involved.

    Are the Claudy victims any closer to Justice? No
    Any nearer to Closure? Perhaps.
    Weighing up the balance of probability is really the best they can hope for…and coming up with an answer (possibly not too far from what I suggest). And all the dots are there waiting to be joined…..but is anybody actually willing to do that?

  • I was thinking more of a phrase a good friend of mine uses: dog wit.

    I should imagine the Spotlight folks had to submit the programme to their own legal eagles yet the careless exposure slipped through.

  • DC

    Yes Joe – a multi-tiered or multi-level approach would be more suitable today and it could be shaped around towns and even districts like West Belfast for instance, it could have its own civil police creating a better sense of belonging to the concept of policing and in the end the rule of law itself.

    You would have low level – non-contentious – civil law enforced by civilian police officers – preferably recruited locally in a bid to be properly representative of the actual area – not of your perceived poltical-ideological outlook (of course there will be overlap but the focus will be about being representative of area than region) as is currently the case and done so managed centrally.

    But it will be about mish-mash and cross-over and of firewalling sensitive data as well, along with checks and balances locally – at the moment the PSNI suffers from having the hand of old politics directly over its recruitment of personnel. Not good, especially in terms of localising policing and of belonging to a service you recognise as representing your area and local priorities.

  • joeCanuck

    And all the dots are there waiting to be joined

    If so, FJH, why haven’t the police been able to do it so far? We know about the cover-up by Whitelaw and the Cardinal at the time but why not now? Are all of the perps dead perhaps? I didn’t see the Spotlight programme, BBC doesn’t allow it outside the UK.

  • Liam

    Its on U Tube.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Lets be honest……after 38 years it seems highly unlikely there will be a conviction……and probably not even a court case.
    As you mention in another thread the record of PSNI or indeed CPS is not good in this respect.
    This one has “not in public interest”, “due to time elapsed”, “impossible to get fair trial because of adverse publicity” (perm any one from three) written all over it.

    The bettr option seems to be leave it for History to join the dots based on what is known to get some kinda answer. Not justice of course.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Yawnnnnnn.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Why ?

  • joeCanuck

    What why?

  • joeCanuck

    The spotlight programme?

  • Liam

    Yes

  • Zig70

    I just really felt for the people caught up in it.
    The rest was riveting but ultimately speculation.
    Man A bothered me, but then again, Derry folk usually do. The questioning was poor. I don’t remember many people round my way having orange cars or even VW’s. And why run off to the US? None of it is enough to stick. If some nice man with a clip board asked me if I stole from a sweet shop when I was 14, I’d deny it, never mind an insanely cruel act like the Claudy bombing.
    As for the RUC and the detective assuring us that the IRA informer was 100% believable? How can paid informers be counted as solid? Wouldn’t stand up in court and sounded desperate.
    The difference with BS is the Brits had somebody writing it all down efficiently and a documented chain of command. So there is a paper trail. There is no paper trail for the IRA’s crimes and I don’t see anyone owning up to those acts.

  • Alan Maskey

    The Orange car man went to the States wehn Irish were illegally flooding over there.

  • Zig70

    My point is I’d have like to see the question put to him so that I could maybe read something into his reaction. I know I wouldn’t be hanging around if I’d had a hand in something like the Claudy bombing and been picked up by the police for it. Maybe it was and didn’t make good TV. Can’t really trust journalism these days.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I think thats a good point that the reaction of A to the questions could not be seen. Obviously to protect his identity.
    Francie Brolly for example looked calm and confident in his interview. Notwithstanding the fact that many would never trust any words coming from a SF spokesperson, I think a reasonable person would conclude that Mr Brolly was telling the truth.

  • Alan Maskey

    Zigt70: It is up to the police to question suspects, not journalists and certainly not people watching journalists on TV. This is a mass murder enquiry, not Reality TV.