Ex-IRA British agent drops legal bid

Published Thursday, 06 March 2014
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A former British army agent inside the IRA has abandoned his legal battle over the newspaper publication of his photograph.

Ex-IRA  British agent drops legal bid
The image was part of a Google search which returned nearly 250,000 hits. (© UTV)

Peter Keeley had been set to appeal the dismissal of his alleged breach of copyright claim against the Irish News.

But the one-time MI5 and RUC informer, who used the pseudonym Kevin Fulton, ended his challenge after a High Court security for costs application was brought against him.

The move could have resulted in Mr Keeley being forced to lodge cash in court to cover legal bills had his planned appeal ultimately failed.

Lawyers for the newspaper were set to argue it is almost inconceivable that the ex-spy, now living in hiding, would voluntary pay any costs against him.

Papers prepared as part of their application claimed: "It is respectfully submitted that he will take full advantage of his shadowy status to avoid any payment whatsoever."

Mr Keeley had been seeking £5,000 damages for breach of privacy and copyright.

He also claimed unauthorised use of an unmasked, self-taken picture has exposed him to heightened danger.

The 52-year-old issued proceedings over a photograph which appeared in the newspaper in April 2011.

The report was in connection with a separate lawsuit his ex-wife took against the Ministry of Defence, the Chief Constable and Freddie Scappaticci, the west Belfast man who denies allegations that he was the army spy codenamed Stakeknife.

Margaret Keeley claimed she was interrogated by an IRA security team, including Scappaticci, following a failed plot to murder a senior RUC officer in Belfast in 1994.

She also alleges wrongful arrest and false imprisonment by the security forces who held her for three days after the assassination attempt.

Mrs Keeley believes her detention was part of an elaborate sham to protect her husband's cover.

But according to her ex-husband, an image of himself he took in a photo-booth for an international driving licence should never have featured in the newspaper report.

In his evidence, given behind screens at a Belfast court earlier this year, the Newry-born former soldier said he will always be under a death sentence from republicans.

He said he doesn't socialise or allow himself to be photographed.

Publishing the self-taken photograph was like a soldier being shot with his own gun, he claimed.

The Irish News defended the action by citing the right to freedom of expression.

Lawyers for the newspaper argued that it was an absurd case brought by a high-profile figure who regularly courts the media.

The court was told the image was part of a Google search which returned nearly 250,000 hits.

In a landmark victory for press freedom, Judge Isobel Brownlie held that the photograph was in the public domain and easily accessible online.

Dismissing Mr Keeley's case last November, she criticised his evidence and pointed to his high public profile.

The one-time agent lodged a High Court appeal on the sole issue of copyright.

But as counsel for the Irish News, Bernard Fitzpatrick, prepared his security for costs application Mr Keeley's barrister, Gary McHugh, confirmed to Mr Justice Gillen that the challenge was no longer being pursued.

The judge affirmed the earlier verdict on the basis that no order for costs is to be made.

© UTV News
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