11 September 2003 Edition

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Psychiatrist fails in challenge to PSNI blacklist

THE ACTIVITIES OF the PSNI's Special Branch are once again under the spotlight, after it emerged in court that a counselling psychiatrist was blacklisted because Special Branch passed on false information about her.

This news comes as one of the North's leading human rights watchdogs, The Committee on the Administration of Justice, is calling for structures to be put in place to test the veracity of Special Branch intelligence reports.

The latest focus to fall on Special Branch and it's handling of information came to light during a High Court action last week, in which it emerged that counselling psychiatrist Anna McConway was refused security clearance to work with the North's Prison Service, after Special Branch told them that Ms McConway had passed on information about an RUC member to the IRA in 1986.

McConway denied the accusation, which she only discovered in 1999, when Corecare, a counselling firm for which she worked, won a contract to supply counselling services to the Prison Service.

The RUC wrote to the Prison Service saying, "we have on record a person whose details are identical with those of your subject.

"She is held on record in December 1986 when it was reported she had passed details of a member of the RUC to the Provisional IRA''.

McConway denied the Special Branch accusation. The court heard that, in September 1996, she rejected "frequent'' requests by an RUC detective constable, Donald Douglas, to take her out.

Also in September 1996, as McConway was leaving her daughter to school, the detective constable approached her and told her that two men wanted to speak to her. She got into an RUC car and spoke to two men she believed were "police officers'' in plain clothes. They asked her to keep an eye on what was happening in bars in Andersonstown and report to them. She refused.

A week later, Douglas again approached her in the company of two plain-clothes officers. She told them to leave her alone and after this approach she complained to a senior RUC officer and was not approached again.

In his judgment, Judge Kerr upheld the decision to refuse security clearance to McConway - even though he claimed that it was "tempting to make a connection between her rejection of [the detective constable] and her refusal to assist Special Branch and the surfacing of these allegations''.

Then, somewhat contradictorily, Kerr acknowledged that McConway may not have been involved in the matters "imputed'' to her, but said "the fact remains that the person who supplied the information was considered by an experienced police officer to be a reliable source.

"In these circumstances the information could not be ignored and, although it does not rest easily with the utter respectability of Mrs McConway's life and professional career, one cannot fault the police for failing to discard the information''.

To compound his contradictory summing up, Kerr concluded saying McConway was more than likely to be innocent of any wrongdoing.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan accused Special Branch "of jeopardising Ms McConway's life and career.

"However the injustice against Ms McConway is compounded by the fact that judge Kerr gave so much credence to Special Branch allegations, even though the source of that information was unknown and went unchallenged in court''.

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