Terrorist thugs put a “target on my back”. Why are the police not taking action?
Since Lyra’s murder two years ago, intimidation of journalists in Northern Ireland has reached alarming levels. I am one of a number of journalists who have been told by the police that my life is in danger. Like many of my threatened colleagues, I have yet to see anyone held responsible for these sinister attempts to prevent me from doing my job. It was in early 2019 when I was first targeted in a smear campaign. I was reporting on the murder of Ian Ogle, a father of two, who was massacred a few yards from his house in east Belfast by members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). In the months leading up to his murder, Ian and his family had been the subject of a campaign of intimidation that forced him to quit his job and included an order to surrender as “punishment”. Her crime was defending her children, who had been attacked in a bar. His refusal to bow down led to his assassination.
Every time I wrote a story about UVF criminal activity, I was the victim of relentless online abuse, slander, and hate. My personal information, including a link to my private Facebook page, was posted on social media, with other invited to join the trolling. A woman said after seeing pictures of my children that she hoped I should “bury” them. Another account told me that I had a target on my back, which had been there “for a while”. Even at the height of the relentless abuse, which took place while I was very pregnant, I did not go to the police because I thought it was something that came with the territory as a criminal journalist. That changed a few months later when I received a message on my personal Facebook account in which the sender threatened to rape my newborn son. It was signed on behalf of the neo-Nazi terrorist group Combat-18. I went to the police, where I filed an official statement and provided the officers with the details of the social media account that sent the message.
Police later confirmed that the individual behind the post was a violent criminal who previously had close ties to a loyalist paramilitary gang. To date, this individual has not even been questioned, let alone arrested. Since then, threats against me for my work have increased. In April 2020, police informed me that they had received information about a plan to attack me in my car if I entered a loyalist area of Belfast where I was covering paramilitary coercion and control.
The following month, myself and colleagues from two Sunday papers were informed by police that the Southeastern Antrim Ulster Defense Association (UDA) was planning to attack us. The general threat has led to the condemnation of politicians from all political backgrounds. A day later, these same politicians were informed that their lives were also threatened by the same gang. In November, the threats escalated and the police visited me at my home twice within 12 hours. They informed me of two separate threats from the UDA, which stated that I would be trapped and shot. In February, my name was posted on a number of walls alongside an image of a gun reticle, another threat to kill me.
Politicians and police have vowed to do what is necessary to hold those behind the threats to account. But today, as I sit here and wonder what’s next, no one has. And I have little faith that anybody ever will. When the police fail to arrest a dangerous criminal threatening a newborn baby, with enough evidence to do so, what hope is there that the obscure figures behind the death threats will ever be brought to justice?