PSNI response to threat to rape journalist’s baby criticised by Ombudsman

‘Evidential opportunities were missed’ during investigation of threat by far right group

Sunday World journalist Patricia Devlin had complained to the Police Ombudsman that police did not take the threat to her child  seriously.

Sunday World journalist Patricia Devlin had complained to the Police Ombudsman that police did not take the threat to her child seriously.


The North’s police watchdog has criticised the PSNI over its response to a journalist who reported a threat to rape her newborn son.

Patricia Devlin, who works for the Sunday World, complained to the Police Ombudsman that police did not take the threat seriously.

The message to her personal Facebook account in October 2019 was signed by Combat 18, a neo-Nazi group which in the past has had links to loyalist paramilitaries.

The suspected sender is a convicted criminal, with links to loyalist paramilitaries and far-right groups, who is believed to have been involved in violent attacks in the North, according to Ms Devlin.

The Police Ombudsman said a review of the police investigation “found that evidential opportunities were missed in regard to enquiries that should have been conducted by police during the investigation”.

It said the officer involved in handling the complaint had been working for the police for just six months but did have the ability to seek advice and guidance over the reported threat.

There was no evidence that advice or guidance was sought.

The Police Ombudsman also said the officer’s immediate supervisors had changed during the investigation.

The suspected offender was believed to be living in Scotland at the time of the police investigation.

‘Terrible social media abuse’

KRW, lawyers for Ms Devlin, said their client was subjected to “terrible social media abuse including well publicised threats directed at her young child”.

“In good faith, she engaged with PSNI to attempt to have the perpetrator investigated and prosecuted,” the firm said in a statement.

“There was significant evidence to identify and locate him. However, the perpetrator was not properly investigated.”

Ms Devlin was failed by police in the missing of “evidential opportunities and in failing to issue arrest warrants outside the jurisdiction”, it said.

Those failings were “compounded by the absence of any senior PSNI personnel to oversee this serious investigation and subsequent complaint, “ the firm said.

Kevin Winters, solicitor at KRW, asked why “such selective incompetence was allowed to facilitate the suspect in evading prosecution.”

“It is both deeply unsettling that a well-known journalist should be treated in this way by the PSNI and regrettably, on a wider level, it undermines confidence in policing in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We look forward to PSNI Professional Standards Department implementing the [Police Ombudsman] recommendations on the actions that now need to be taken to prevent similar reoccurrences.”

Ms Devlin was supported in her complaint by the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International.

Patrick Corrigan, the North’s director of Amnesty International, said the threats to Ms Devlin were “totally abhorrent and are part of a wider climate of intimidation of journalists in Northern Ireland.”

“It is the responsibility of the media to shine a light into the dark corners of our society,” he said.

“It is the police’s responsibility to uphold their right to do so and to ensure there is no impunity for those who threaten press freedom. The failure of the PSNI to properly investigate this case is totally unacceptable.

“We hope that the outcome of the [Police Ombudsman] investigation will concentrate minds within the PSNI in responding to further threats to journalists in Northern Ireland.”

A PSNI spokesman said: “A complaint was made to the Office of the Police Ombudsman, the case was upheld and the matter was dealt with under performance measures.”