UVF man loses High Court appeal over Sunday World 'false claims'
UVF godfather Colin ‘Meerkat’ Fulton has lost a court appeal against the Sunday World after being denied damages for alleged harassment.
The south Belfast loyalist claimed that 28 stories in which he was referred to contained false claims about him and that his life was put at risk as a result.
Earlier today however, judges upheld a High Court ruling that the series of Sunday World articles Fulton was a result of responsible journalism and a robust expression of press freedom.
Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, said: "We accept that there is a public interest in examining allegations of criminal behaviour by paramilitaries linked to the UVF in the south Belfast area with a view to publication.
"The role of the press in exposing alleged wrongdoing is all the more important where the PSNI accepts that there is a problem of paramilitary criminality but is unable to take effective steps to stop it.
"The fact that his [Fulton’s] house was the only house in his street from which a UVF flag hung... supports the inference that the appellant publicly demonstrated his adherence to the UVF in a range of different ways.
"It is frankly astonishing that it took so long before any issue about the publication of these articles was taken with the respondent newspaper and it is of some note that the learned trial judge formed the view that the appellant relished his notoriety."
Colin 'Meerkat' Fulton
Outside court the Sunday World’s Northern Bureau Chief Richard Sullivan and Ed McCann, Group Managing Editor of Independent News and Media, which publishes the Sunday World, welcomed the result.
Mr Sullivan said: "This is a strong vindication of the freedom of the press and its role in investigating criminal activities in the communities we represent and live in."
Mr McCann noted the threats and intimidation Sunday World staff regularly face by exposing paramilitary criminality.
He said: "The Sunday World has a justified reputation for fearlessly exposing paramilitary activities. In the original trial, both former Northern Editor Jim McDowell and Belfast Bureau Chief Richard Sullivan testified as to the threats they have faced. It is heartening to see the Court of Appeal stand up for robust investigative journalism, which plays a key role in any democratic society.
"It is also worth noting that Fulton’s case at both the High Court and Court of Appeal were funded by the taxpayer. With the newspaper industry in general facing challenges to traditional revenue streams, cases like this are a further threat to investigative journalism. We may have won in this instance but it’s more than likely that we will still have significant legal costs."