By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Journalist Ed Moloney has thanked the many U.S. supporters who backed his legal challenge against handing the RUC notes of his interview with a loyalist who supplied the guns used to murder Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane.
Moloney, the Northern editor of the Sunday Tribune, had refused to breach the confidentiality of his 1990 interview with William Stobie, instead accusing the police of trying to "punish" him for highlighting alleged collusion in the Finucane murder.
Two judges ruled last Wednesday that an earlier ruling had been wrong to direct the journalist to hand over the notes. Moloney described it as a landmark decision and said his newspaper’s stance had been vindicated.
Stobie, who has admitted being an RUC Special Branch informer, is to stand trial for the Finucane murder, and has since been granted bail. Stobie gave Moloney an interview the year after the killing because he feared his handlers were about to betray him to the UDA.
In their judgment, Northern Ireland’s lord chief justice, Sir Robert Carswell, and Justice Brian Kerr said the county court judge had either misapprehended the evidence given by police or misguided himself in making his decision.
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In his judgment, Carswell said: "Police have to show something more than a possibility that the material will be of some use. They must establish that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the material is likely to be of substantial value to the investigation."
It was a technical victory, however, as the judges did not find in Moloney’s favor on grounds of press freedom. It is a limited safeguard in future cases, but nevertheless an important one. Costs, estimated at over $400,000, were awarded to the Sunday Tribune.
Moloney said that during Stobie’s bail application it became clear the authorities "had in their possession since 1990 over 120 pages of conversations with Stobie during which he admitted that he was a Special Branch informer and that the information he passed onto the Special Branch was sufficient to have saved Pat Finucane’s life."
"I ended up with 10 pages of typewritten notes. The police had 122 pages. Their own records, as I understand them, are literally peppered with names," he said
"They knew everything that there was to know about Billy Stobie’s role in the Pat Finucane murder, about the UDA’s role in the Pat Finucane murder, long before they came hunting for Ed Moloney."