I’ve had many wonderful messages on social media in the last few days since I went public with the news that Gerry Kelly had dropped his ludicrous libel case against me.

Published: 30 April 2024

Thank you to everyone who sent kind wishes that have reassured me that it’s worth standing up to bullies.

These didn’t all come from traditional supporters. I don’t know @mooreholmes24, that highly articulate East Belfast loyalist, who tweeted: “This entire episode has been a cynical attempt to silence you and intimidate anyone else from shining a light on Sinn Fein. It has emphatically failed, and for everyone’s benefit rightly so. Truth wins.”

And I particularly appreciated this from @Frank_Mortimer: “Congratulations, I rarely agree with a word you say, but you’re entitled to say it. Totally wrong to put you through this.”

My case was almost identical to that taken against Malachi O’Doherty, both of us having had the temerity to say publicly (him on radio and me in print) that Mr Kelly had shot a prison officer in the head during the Maze prison escape about which he has spoken and written with pride.

Since there was ample evidence that similar specific allegations had been made about him publicly in his presence without challenge, it had certainly not occurred to me that Mr Kelly would sue. I don’t know about you, but used though I am to torrents of abuse and lies from supporters of Sinn Fein, if someone said in front of an audience that I had attempted to kill someone with a gun I would at least have tried to contradict them.

But Mr Kelly didn’t, yet a year or so later he was claiming I had gravely damaged him in his character and reputation and his standing as a “respected” member of the NI Assembly.

Sinn Fein were on a roll. People like Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and lesser Sinn Fein mortals had been busy litigating and doing rather nicely. And we were septuagenarian freelance journalists with no organisations behind us.

Malachi feared losing his house. I knew I could be bankrupted. We must have looked like easy meat.

The weapon of choice for what are known as Slapps (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which are designed to shut critics up, is the Letter Before Action (LBA). “What’s the problem?” people say. “If you’re telling the truth, the courts will see you right.” But as the media lawyer Jane Clemetson, a trustee of the Ethical Journalism Network, explained in The Times last November, “for most people threatened with a libel action, the attitude of the courts is irrelevant. On receipt of a sternly worded Letter Before Action (LBA) setting out why a claimant believes you are wrong, you will make an apology on whatever grovelling/humiliating terms are required.”

I heard about several scared people in Ireland who apologised, paid up and kept quiet.

As Ms Clemetson put it, “litigation is very expensive, even if you win, and terribly stressful, so unless you have access to pots of money and enjoy a fight you will do almost anything to avoid the case going to court.”

Up to a point, I enjoy a fight against what I regard as the forces of darkness, but I don’t have pots of money and I had already had had three LBAs. But I have been blessed with wonderful lawyers who are people of great integrity, that is they have a moral compass that distinguishes between right and wrong.

John Finucane’s feelings had been hurt because I tweeted that, like his dad, he was an apologist for the IRA. That was seen off with the help of Shane Paul O’Doherty, who runs the brilliant www.irishpeaceprocess.blog, who assembled a dossier so full of inconvenient details from Mr Finucane’s speeches, that after we posted it on social media he dropped the case.

Michelle O’Neill dropped hers too. I had implicitly suggested she was a hypocrite over lockdown by mistakenly tweeting a photograph that turned out to be wrongly-dated so though I apologised immediately when I knew, I’m sure the case would have continued had it not been for her performance at Bobby Storey’s enormous lockdown funeral shortly afterwards.

The third one, from one Liam Lappin, a Sinn Fein staffer, is bizarre, but I can’t comment on it yet as it’s still in the works in the Dublin High Court and is even more complicated than it is groundless.

Master Bell, striking out the case against Malachi, referred to it as “scandalous, frivolous and vexatious”. As was the one against me.

As Malachi tweeted this week: “Ruth and I were under pressure from @GerryKellyMLA for years through a vexatious and unviable legal threat. We need a change in the law that accords compensation to victims of such harassment.”

I think that would be fair.

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