Letters sent to Police Scotland – published today by The Ferret – urge the force to act against a man described as a “dangerous criminal” who issued threats against a female journalist and her newborn son.
Patricia Devlin, an award-winning crime reporter with the Sunday World, based in Belfast, received a threat in October 2019 sent to her Facebook account.
It was signed in the name of neo-Nazi group, Combat 18, which has links to loyalist terror groups in Northern Ireland.
The sender threatened to rape Devlin’s newborn son. The suspect, apparently now living in Scotland after relocating from Northern Ireland, is believed to have been involved in violent attacks.
In October Devlin lodged an official complaint with the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland alleging that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has failed to properly investigate the threat to rape her baby.
Devlin has been on the receiving end of threats of violence for years, as a result of her work as a journalist exposing criminals and paramilitaries.
Her case has been taken up by Amnesty International, the National Union of Journalists, and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a consortium of media groups in Europe.
Amnesty International and MFRR have written to PSNI and Police Scotland expressing concerns over the safety of Devlin and the lack of progress made on the investigation.
It is claimed that in June, Devlin was passed information about the suspect’s whereabouts in Scotland, including a phone number, address, and the name of a business he was running from his home. This information was passed to PSNI which claims to have passed it to Police Scotland.
Police Scotland is mentioned in Devlin’s complaint to the ombudsman. She was apparently advised that Scottish officers could do nothing until the man came to their attention for something else.
Amnesty’s letter says that a PSNI officer in touch with Devlin’s lawyers “indicated” that Police Scotland was not able to investigate “because the offences of malicious communication to cause anxiety and abuse of electronic network facilities” did not exist in Scotland.
However, Amnesty points out that the Communications Act 2003 does relate to Scotland, adding that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has issued guidance on cases involving communications sent via social media.
Amnesty is also concerned that, despite assurances given to Devlin’s lawyers, they have not yet been given a contact at Police Scotland.
The letter was written by Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, who told The Ferret: “We strongly condemn the horrific threats against journalist Patricia Devlin and her family – another example of online violence against women that continues unchecked, and part of a disturbing climate of violence undermining press freedom in Northern Ireland.”
McAuliffe added that Amnesty International has been monitoring the “stream of threats received by journalists designed to shut down press scrutiny of criminal and paramilitary activity”.
She said colleagues in Belfast have “criticised the failure of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to properly investigate this case” and are supporting Devlin’s complaint to the police ombudsman.
McAuliffe continued: “We have written to Iain Livingstone, Chief Constable of Police Scotland about the case in light of the suspect’s reported relocation to Scotland and hope cooperation between police forces will bring those responsible for these appalling threats to account.”
MFRR’s letter was addressed to both Chief Constable Simon Byrne of PSNI, and Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of Police Scotland.
It says: “Regrettably, we observe that to date, no effective investigation has taken place. We are deeply concerned that the suspected perpetrator has apparently been free to travel back and forth between Northern Ireland and Scotland without any concerted action from the authorities.
“We urge you to ensure that the necessary steps are taken with the appropriate urgency that lead to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator of the threats against Patricia Devlin and to immediately put in place the necessary protection measures.”
MFRR says that communication with Devlin by the PSNI has been “inadequate throughout” claiming there has been “inconsistent and contradictory information provided about jurisdictional issues”. The collaboration between police services is “particularly worrisome”, MFRR added.
Devlin is also backed by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Seamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, said: “The NUJ is supporting Patricia and her complaint to the Police Ombudsman, there should be no impunity for crimes against journalists in Northern Ireland or anywhere else.
“A failure to tackle abuse and threats has a collective impact on all journalists and on freedom of expression and the right to report,” Dooley added.
“The union has raised Patricia’s case with the new national committee for the safety of journalists in the UK.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we liaised with the Police Service of Northern Ireland regarding an enquiry of theirs. Police Scotland has not arrested or charged any individual in relation to this enquiry.
“We can also confirm we have received correspondence in relation to a complaint and this is being looked into. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The PSNI did not respond to our requests for a comment.