Sick threats The Nazi thug who threatened to rape my baby has still not been arrested
HE quotes Hitler, publicly eulogizes Nazis and posts pictures proudly posing beside Ku Klux Klan figures - this is the man suspected of threatening to rape my baby son.
It’s been 12 months since I walked into a PSNI station to report my belief this convicted criminal was behind an abhorrent message sent to my personal Facebook page targeting my three-month-old boy.
In that time, police told me they had evidence to connect this neo-Nazi supporter – complete with sinister loyalist paramilitary links – to that threat.
Yet one year on, this suspect has not even been questioned, let alone arrested.
First, I was told he could not be located. That he had moved away from Northern Ireland within the first three months of the investigation.
However, I was assured police would find him, that he was on what was described as an “immediate arrest alert list”.
Police Scotland were now working hand in hand with the PSNI, the investigating officer said, and the suspect, who they had information to link to the phone that sent the threat, would be found.
In May I was again told inquiries had hit a brick wall, that this person, who had many times before come to police attention, had seemingly disappeared into thin air.
So, you can imagine my surprise when in June, I was passed information from the suspect’s own social media account which claimed his home in a major Scottish city had been the subject of a police raid for separate matters.
That information also showed where he lived, down to the very street, his mobile phone number and even a business he had recently set up, complete with contact details.
Surely this was a breakthrough? I gave copies of that information to the PSNI at the beginning of July but to date, it appears not to have been acted on.
Just a few weeks later, I received a phone call to the Sunday World office. The caller ‘Tom’ wanted to ask about a story I’d written on a brewing UDA internal feud published the week previous.
My heart stopped, I recognised the voice, and I ended the call.
This individual, so confident that he would not be challenged over the allegations, was now phoning me directly.
Months again passed and after seeking my own legal advice, I was then told by the PSNI that in fact, this suspect was never the subject of what officers had told me was “an immediate arrest alert”.
That is why last week I filed an official Police Ombudsman complaint over what I feel has been a PSNI failure to adequately investigate this serious threat to myself, my family and press freedom.
As a journalist who has covered the criminal underworld the length and breadth of Ireland, I’m well used to the abuse and bile from those who don’t like a light shone on dark corners.
I’ve been called everything from a prostitute to a police informant, and had my impartiality questioned solely on the basis of my last name.
Like many other reporters on this island and beyond, I’ve been threatened – many times – and warned by police that my safety is at risk.
But all of that combined does not compare to having one of the most defenceless and vulnerable people in your life threatened in the most disturbing and unspeakable of ways.
At just three months old, my son Tiarnan couldn’t roll over, crawl or even hold his head up, yet he was seen as a legitimate target by someone who did not like his mother, simply for doing her job.
The sender of that horrendous message intended to intimidate and terrorise. They did.
The moment I read those words will never leave me. I felt physically sick with a nausea that did not leave for many, many months.
I did not sleep; I could not eat. I contemplated my future in journalism, and I questioned my own part in exposing my son, and all my children, to the sinister elements I had never once been afraid of confronting in my work.
Then there was the anxiety, the never-ending worry that this person, who had quite clearly pored over my Facebook profile with pictures of me holding a tiny baby in my arms, would attempt to carry out their sick threats.
Did they know where I lived? Would they find out? Are my children safe in their own home?
That’s the thing about social media – a phone or a computer screen does not stop the monsters from getting inside your life.
It brings them right into your living room, your kitchen, your bedroom. Worst of all, they get inside your head.
You can log out but erasing the effects of poisonous words cannot be done as simply as hitting delete.
Today we are living in a virtual society where the internet is now intrinsically linked with our ‘real’ lives.
So why is it that when crimes are committed online, they are treated less seriously than those carried out on the street?
The impact of online violence is as devastating as the physical, and it can leave deeper scars.
These internet lunatics get a kick out of belittling and bullying those who wouldn’t have given them the time of day before.
Now they can do it in the click of a button in front of a global audience, backed up by their multiple personalities, each with their own Twitter account.
Some are even given mainstream media platforms off the back of their hate-filled, narcissistic posts, which only interaction they deserve, at best, is a mute or a block.
Freedom of speech is precious and is now abused far too often by those whose only objective is to silence others.
Misogyny is a huge driver – any woman with a public profile is seen as fair game in their twisted world where threats of sexual violence are increasingly used.
Female journalists have suffered immensely – a recent study by the International Women’s Media Foundation found that two out of three women reporters worldwide said they had been threatened or harassed online at least once.
That online harassment “led to self-censorship” of journalists and “undermined press freedom”.
Those who carried out the survey said online abuse is not only a safety issue for journalists but also a “threat to the integrity of our public life” and a “menace to our democracy.”
In my case, Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) agreed.
In a statement released on Tuesday as my solicitors prepared to file a complaint on my behalf with the Police Ombudsman, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty UK’s Northern Ireland programme director, said the threats sent to me were part of a wider climate now undermining press freedom in Northern Ireland.
“Amnesty International has been watching with increasing concern the constant stream of threats being received by journalists in Northern Ireland, designed to shut down press scrutiny of criminal and paramilitary activity,” he said.
“The complete failure of the PSNI to properly investigate this case is totally unacceptable. We sincerely hope that this complaint to the Police Ombudsman will help concentrate minds in the PSNI and ensure diligence in bringing these criminals to account.”
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: “Facilitating impunity for those who choose to threaten, harass and attempt to silence journalists has a collective impact on the journalistic community, one which compounds the awful personal impact on Patricia and her family.
“It is deeply disturbing that at a time when accurate and reliable news and information are needed more than ever, journalists are being increasingly targeted, threatened, abused and attacked.”
I now await the outcome of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation and hope that by bringing this challenge it will, in some small part, make a difference to anyone else who seeks in the future.
To the person who threatened to rape my son, and I know you are reading this now, you did not silence me, you only raised my voice.