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GAGGED 3 TIMES, BUT WE FIGHT ON; Sunday People takes a stand for freedom of the Press over our Army death squad story.

THE Sunday People is fighting the British Government and MI5 in a major battle over Press freedom.

They have now GAGGED us THREE TIMES after we published articles revealing how members of a shadowy British Army outfit, the Force Research Unit, were involved in sectarian murders in the North.

The latest story dealt with Francisco Notorantonio, a West Belfast Catholic. He was allegedly set up by the unit to be murdered to protect the identity of an IRA mole known as Steak Knife.

The article was only published in our Northern Ireland editions but triggered a massive censorship bid by MI5 and the Ministry of Defence.

The Government has since gagged us on three occasions and BANNED us from making any further revelations on certain subjects.

We are going back to court this week to fight for freedom as even more draconian measures are planned to foil our vital inquiries.

Incredibly, our investigations cover major allegations similar to those ALREADY being probed by Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

His team is probing claims of collusion between terrorists and secret Army outfits over the murders of high-ranking Republicans.

But, amazingly, we are still being silenced and are legally forbidden from telling you why.

Prompted by our triple gag, The Guardian newspaper published a full-page article last Monday, exposing the SAME allegations.

The Sunday People went to court on Friday to challenge the Government's gagging orders.

Earlier in the week, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had sought substantial damages from this newspaper as part of the Government's case.

He dramatically withdrew that claim at the door of the court on Friday.

Mr Notorantonio's family hope to meet detectives from the Stevens inquiry. The 66-year-old was shot as he lay in bed with his wife at their home in 1987.

It is alleged he was set up by the Force Research Unit. UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson was said have passed the retired taxi driver's details to a Loyalist hit squad.

Mr Notorantonio's daughter Charlotte told the Sunday People: "We knew my father was murdered by a Loyalist gang. But we find it incredible his details were passed to Nelson by members of the security forces."

In a statement yesterday, the Sunday People warned the Government we will not take their gagging orders lying down.

We said: "Geoff Hoon must be a worried man.

"He first went to the High Court after we revealed allegations that Army personnel, who are supposed to protect lives, ordered hits. We have been gagged three times on one issue in less than two weeks.

"As a result of the first gagging order, we have been banned from running a further article relating to these investigations that we had prepared for publication.

"But we do vow to fight this latest astonishing attack on Press freedom."

Editor Neil Wallis said: "I'm furious. It is amazing that the Government and security services can gag what is supposed to be a free Press. If they think we will accept this, they are quite wrong. I can assure them the Government have a real fight on their hands."

MP Stephen McCabe, member of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, said: "We should not be gagging stories just because they are embarrassing to the Government."

Labour party veteran Tony Benn added: "A Government should not suppress news stories."

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greg.harkin@people.co.uk
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Author:Harkin, Greg
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:560
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