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PSNI probe ‘appalling’ anti-vaxxer threats to journalist


Rodney Edwards' front-page story in the Sunday Independent

Rodney Edwards' front-page story in the Sunday Independent

Rodney Edwards' front-page story in the Sunday Independent

The PSNI is investigating threatening messages sent to a Sunday Independent journalist.

They were posted on social media to Rodney Edwards following an article in last weekend’s paper about the anti-vaccination movement in Northern Ireland.

He reported that senior politicians there had been told by police to review their security arrangements after being targeted by Covid-19 conspiracy theorists.

Among the politicians targeted were DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.

Following the publication of the front-page article in the Northern Ireland edition of this newspaper, Mr Edwards received a large number of abusive messages online.

It is the latest case involving online abuse of journalists in the North. The PSNI has now set up a special unit to investigate.

PSNI Acting Assistant Chief Constable Sam Donaldson urged people who suffer similar abuse to come forward.

“There are a number of investigations ongoing. I am encouraged by that because previously I think journalists wouldn’t have had the confidence to report this type of thing to us,” he said.

“We are definitely seeing more people make contact with us and that’s what we want people to do — whether it’s about anti-vax, whether it’s about online abuse — whatever people are experiencing, we want them to engage with us and we want to help them.”

The PSNI’s criminal investigation department has the task of examining the threats made against Mr Edwards and is liaising with gardaí, with whom it maintains “open lines of communication”.

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“There is a cross-Border element to a lot of these things that are happening,” said Mr Donaldson.

Sunday Independent Editor Alan English condemned those responsible for the online abuse.

“Unfortunately, good journalists like Rodney are subjected to abuse every hour of the day on social media, but this was on another, quite appalling level,” he said.

“We have taken appropriate measures in response and will not tolerate any such threats against any of our journalists.”

Peter Vandermeersch, the publisher at Mediahuis, which owns the Sunday Independent, said they believed in “honest and fearless” journalism.

“Threatening our individual journalists is threatening our mission as a newspaper group and our commitment to balanced and fair journalism,” he added.

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