invasion of our home is an event I have experienced
many times over the years. Invariably they employ
one terrorism act or another as a means of legal cover.
These acts give the police a lot of power and those
being searched a lot of hassle with little means of
redress. Since my release from prison in the early
1990s my home has been searched on five occasions.
On average that is once every two years. Before I
went to prison it was searched too many times to remember
exactly. Although there was one period in 1974 when
it was raided five times in two weeks.
logic of harassment that governs state invasions of
private homes is evident in the fact that despite
all these searches I have never faced court proceedings
as a result of anything found in my home. Rarely has
anything been seized.
suppose I have always been on the receiving end of
such measures because of my life as a republican activist.
While disliking house searches they are something
I have grown used to, waxing philosophical about them
rather than complaining. People who are politically
at odds with the state always expect to be squeezed
by its forces.
last raid on my home was different. I was targeted
on the 4th of July because I was a writer, not a republican
activist. Two days earlier I had covered a protest
staged by a republican prisoner support group at Dundonald
House. I was not a protestor. Ostensibly, the object
of the PSNI search was to locate and recover
documentation in relation to the Prison Service, cameras,
digital cameras, photographs, records held on computer
sought in connection with and likely to be of substantial
value to their terrorist investigations. The
police seized this and more - an electronic organiser
and mobile phones. The search was carried out under
the auspices of the Terrorism Act 2000. The signature
of a Justice of the Peace was all that was required
to authorise the search. He assented - has he ever
done anything else?
solicitor immediately moved to inform the PSNI of
what they knew already - I was a journalist and they
had abused their powers by seizing my equipment which
comes under excluded material. This is
a legal concept aimed at preventing the police going
on a mere fishing expedition. Faced with the threat
of legal action the PSNI next arrived at my door on
the 17th of July. This time they came with their powers
clearly circumscribed. Rather than being able to invade
my home they arrived armed with an order from a Crown
Court judge instructing me to hand over my equipment
within seven days. It was then explained to me that
because they already had the equipment they would
not be taking any further action to acquire it. How
considerate of them! At the same time they delivered
a similar order to UTV seeking their film footage
of the Dundonald House protest.
weeks later virtually all my equipment was returned.
The remainder is on its way. What all of this amounts
to is that the PSNI used the widest possible terrorist
legislation to target a journalist. It meant that
they felt free to dispense with the more restrictive
legislation that applies to excluded material, opting
instead for that which contains the do what
we want clause. Only when confronted with the
possibility of legal action did they move to use the
legal route they should have went down to begin with.
And then they disingeniously sought to use a Crown
Court order to retrospectively justify search and
seizure. How they managed to dupe a Crown Court judge
into ordering material to be handed over within 7
days when they had the same material in their possession
for thirteen days, is a matter of grave concern. Does
the bench in the North intend to continue in its time
honoured role as the mere instrument of the police,
providing cover for improper if not illegal behaviour?
Is it prepared to give the police rather than the
NUJ the power to determine who is a journalist?
is crucial to an informed public mindset that the
journalists - to whom that public talks often in confidence
- are not targeted by political policing, leading
to the erosion of that confidence principle. Otherwise,
the only legitimate gatherers of public information
would be the police and that would edge us dangerously
close to becoming a police state.
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