Safety of Journalists Platform

Legal proceedings are ongoing against journalist Malachi O’Doherty in relation to radio interviews he did on 21 August 2019 on U105 and BBC Radio Ulster. During the interviews O’Doherty referred to Gerry Kelly, a Sinn Féin parliamentarian for the Northern Ireland Assembly, who had been a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In 1984, Kelly was among those featured in a report – the “Hennessy Report” – arising from an inquiry into the security arrangements at The Maze prison. The inquiry was conducted following the escape of 38 prisoners from The Maze the previous year. According to the report, in the lead-up to the escape Kelly “fired two shots” at a prison officer, who “collapsed on the floor with a bullet through the head”. The prison officer, who survived the attack, claimed that Kelly had fired the shots. According to Kelly’s account of the incident, he was one of two prisoners armed with pistols who tried to force the door into the control room where the prison officer was attempting to raise the alarm about the escape. When asked during a radio interview whether he shot the prison officer, he said: “There was a prison officer shot and he was clearly shot by a prisoner and I was one of the prisoners in the circle.” He was acquitted of having shot the prison officer after a trial in 1987.

In October 2019, O’Doherty was contacted by solicitors acting on behalf of Kelly. The solicitors’ letter asserted that his reputation as a member of Northern Ireland’s legislative assembly and as a member of the Policing Board had been damaged by false claims in the interviews. A writ of summons was issued to O’Doherty on 20 August 2020, and served one year later. Kelly claims that his character and reputation were gravely damaged by O’Doherty and is therefore claiming aggravated damages for defamation.

Separately, Gerry Kelly is also suing writer Ruth Dudley Edwards for an article she wrote in the Belfast Telegraph in September 2019. The article, which questioned Sinn Féin’s commitment to reconciliation in Northern Ireland, also referred to Gerry Kelly and The Maze prison escape. At 10.30pm on Friday 3 June 2022, Dudley Edwards was served a writ dated 21 September 2021 at her home in London. According to the documents, Kelly is claiming aggravated damages for what she wrote. The article remains online.

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