BELFAST (UNITED KINGDOM)
Belfast Telegraph [Belfast, Northern Ireland]
December 1, 2022
By Alan Erwin
A victim of paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan has lost a High Court battle to establish if he was a police informer.
The man challenged the PSNI’s policy of neither confirming nor denying the deceased cleric’s suspected role as an agent.
But a judge rejected claims that the force had adopted an inflexible position in breach of human rights.
Mr Justice Colton said: “The policy under challenge in this application is well embedded and approved in our law.
“It has been endorsed by both the High Court and the Specialist Tribunal established to deal with disclosure of such material.”
Finnegan, who died in 2002, was accused of a campaign of child sexual abuse while a teacher at St Colman’s College in Newry, Co Down but never prosecuted.
He worked at the school between 1967 and 1987, spending the last decade as its president.
Since his death damages have been paid to settle a series of civil actions by those he was said to have abused.
Amid claims that the RUC tolerated Finnegan’s activities so that he could be utilised as an agent, former Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey reportedly raised concerns with police four years ago.
In December 2020 lawyers representing the man who took the legal challenge, referred to as JR 209, wrote to the authorities requesting clarification about the informer allegations.
A response on behalf of the Chief Constable stated: “The PSNI neither confirms nor denies whether Malachy Finnegan was, or ever has been, an agent.”
Counsel for JR 209 argued that the police policy was unlawfully rigid and violated his entitlement to information under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
With disclosure being sought for a wider civil action, the challenge was supported by The Dromore Group, a body set up to raise awareness of clerical sexual abuse,
The case was the first of its kind since west Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci unsuccessfully took the British Government to court for refusing to confirm or deny press allegations that he was the spy codenamed Stakeknife operating inside the IRA.
A barrister representing the PSNI insisted that the ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) policy is invariably applied in cases involving suspected stage agents and sensitive intelligence information.
Refusing leave to seek a judicial review, Mr Justice Colton identified no explanation for an “egregious” delay in challenging a decision taken back in December 2020.
He added: “There are mechanisms in place to deal with the NCND policy as a potential defence in civil proceedings contemplated by the applicant.
“There is a further alternative remedy available to the applicant in the form of a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
Outside court JR 209’s solicitor, Kevin Winters, said a route map has now been provided for other ways to challenge the police position.
He said: “We are confident these deeply held suspicions about the prolific abuser Finnegan can still be exposed.
“It was a brave decision by the victim to put his name forward to initiate this challenge. His decision to do so was totally vindicated.”