The BBC won’t have to hand over unseen footage of a Republican parade, after a judge refused a bid by the PSNI to access the material relating to a 32 County Sovereignty Movement event in Londonderry.
The footage in question shows a masked man, dressed in army-style clothing and purporting to be from the Real IRA, read a pre-prepared speech at the City Cemetery on April 25 last year.
The man had arrived in a van along with a ‘colour party’ of nine or ten others who were also masked and dressed in paramilitary uniforms.
Police said they had taken an operational decision not to deploy officers to the annual event – a police helicopter did obtain some footage, but it directed its cameras to a group of youths who appeared to be armed with petrol bombs after the speech concluded.
In making a legal bid for the BBC footage, the PSNI claimed it would be of maximum benefit to experts intending to carry out facial mapping, voice recognition and gait analysis to identify the men involved.
The BBC argued that police deliberately chose not to deploy resources, intent on using media coverage.
The broadcaster also considered members of the press at risk, due to “chilling” threats made within the speech over the media’s portrayal of the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland as “acceptable”.
Belfast Recorder Judge Burgess rejected the claim that the BBC was being used as an investigative tool by the PSNI and said there was no merit in the argument about the threats, given that the broadcaster had still decided to televise part of the footage.
But Judge Burgess did not grant the PSNI the right to seize the unseen footage under the Terrorism Act.
Such applications must meet two conditions – there must be reasonable grounds for believing the material is “likely to be of substantial value” and for believing “it is in the public interest” that the material be made available, with regard to “the benefit likely to accrue to a terrorist investigation”.
Judge Burgess said the PSNI’s experts had only taken “a quick look” at the BBC footage which had already been broadcast and which was available to them, before deciding they needed the rest.
He further said no indication had been given as to the specific purpose of the requested material and how it was to be of substantial benefit.
The Recorder concluded that – without a more detailed examination on a proper evidential basis and based on the evidence presently before the court – he could not be satisfied that the necessary conditions had been met and the PSNI application was refused.
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