On February 7th, 2015, on the morning that Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea’s lawyers began a judicial review in the High Court in Belfast against a PSNI attempt to seize his interviews from the Boston College archive, The Irish News’ Allison Morris splashed a story on the front page claiming that in his interviews with the college, Rea had admitted involvement in the post-1998 murder of Loyalist, Frankie Currie.
The claim attracted added significance because Curry’s killing took place after the Good Friday Agreement and therefore if deemed guilty of involvement Winkie Rea would serve a full life term rather than the two year amnesty period agreed under the terms of the peace accord.
The fact that Morris’ story appeared on the morning of the court hearing meant that every involved lawyer, and very possibly the judge hearing the judicial review, could have been aware of the claim that Rea had implicated himself in a very serious murder.
Judges are not supposed to be influenced by what they read, see or hear in the media. But they are human.
This is what Allison Morris wrote about the Curry killing: “The Irish News understands that Winkie Rea (66) openly discussed in his interview recorded almost 10 years ago the internal process and build up which took place prior to Curry’s murder.”
When researching this article, Allison Morris made no attempt to contact me for comment, or the lead Loyalist researcher, Wilson McArthur. Morris has my email address and she could easily have traced Wilson.
For most ethical or competent reporters, contacting sources so close to a story would have been a priority. But not, it seems, for Allison Morris.
Had she contacted me, I would have been able to tell her that Rea never discussed the Curry murder, a detail of his interviews of which, for obvious reasons, I was confident. The fact that the PSNI have not charged him with that killing strongly suggests I was right.
I do not know who her source or sources were for this story, or even if she had any, but so wide of the mark was it that the detached observer is entitled to ask whether she invented the story. If that was the case then even more serious questions follow about her motive.
Her employer in The Irish News behaved no better. The editor, Noel Doran refused to publish a letter I wrote to the paper strongly disputing Morris’ story. It seems he will brook no criticism or censure of his ‘star reporter’ despite her getting this story as badly wrong as it is possible to be, and a slew of other stories widely criticised because of their lack of substance, evidence and corroboration.
Furthermore when I complained to the IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation), he defended Morris to the hilt. The much-criticised IPSO, regarded in some circles as a proprietors’ toy, ruled in his favour.
That verdict reflects badly on the IPSO but it also speaks volumes about The Irish News. That newspaper employs a high-profile journalist who fails to follow the most basic procedures when checking a story and is edited by a man who defends such behaviour.
It is, perhaps, time that the proprietors of The Irish News took a long, hard look at how their newspaper is being run – and in particular confront its Allison Morris problem.