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NUJ condemns police seizure of phone

THE NUJ is "alarmed" that a telephone belonging to a Londonderry-based journalist has been seized by police.

Officers presented Eamonn MacDermott, who often writes about dissident republicans, with a warrant to confiscate the phone on Thursday.

The NUJ said it was a threat to journalists' rights to protect their sources' confidentiality. The PSNI said it would use all legal methods to carry out investigations.

The PSNI had by Friday afternoon returned the SIM card from the phone but not, as far as the Freelance was aware, the phone itself. "How many journalists are even aware of the distinction between their contacts living on the SIM card or in the phone's memory?" asked editor Mike Holderness.

It said any member of the public who had a complaint to make about police actions could contact the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

Mr MacDermott believes the seizure relates to a call he received from the Real IRA following a bomb last year.

He stressed the importance of the phone to his career.

"In the course of making a statement previously the police told me that they would be able to access my phone records," he said.

"I know they have accessed my phone records so I asked them why do they need the handset when they already have access to records and can access the records without any difficulty whatsoever?

"All [the officer] would tell me was it was part of an investigation and she refused to give me any details.

"I told her that this is my livelihood, as a freelance journalist my phone is my lifeblood, every contact I have is in that phone."

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear condemned the PSNI move.

In a statement, he said: "Eamonn MacDermott is an established freelance journalist working in Northern Ireland, covering sensitive stories and with a wide range of contacts.

"The seizure of his phone and the accessing of his phone records by the police is another attack on the right of journalists to operate in Northern Ireland.

"The right to protect confidential sources of information is compromised when police act in this way and we take this action very seriously."

Last year, the PSNI failed in an attempt to force Sunday Tribune journalist Suzanne Breen to hand over notes on stories she had written about the Real IRA.

Last modified: 19 Aug 2010 - © 2010 contributors
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