Sunday Tribune Editor, Nóirín Hegarty, and Séamus Dooley of the NUJ with Suzanne Breen outside the High Court in Belfast

In a landmark decision, the PSNI has been ordered to pay three-quarters of the Sunday Tribune's legal bill for a case where Northern editor Suzanne Breen refused to hand over material relating to stories on the Real IRA.

The ruling by the Belfast recorder, Judge Tom Burgess, is yet another victory for the freedom of the press. It sets a legal precedent because the 2000 Terrorism Act, under which the PSNI made their original application, makes no provision for the payment of costs in such cases.

Welcoming the decision, Sunday Tribune editor Nóirín Hegarty said: "I would like to pay particular tribute to Sunday Tribune solicitor Joe Rice, assisted by Conor Houston and barrister Peter Girvan, who worked extremely hard to argue our case relating to costs.

"This outcome is very just. We are delighted not to be financially penalised for the principle in which we believe."

Breen said: "I would like to thank Judge Burgess for his courageous and fair decisions on this case at a time when myself and my family were placed under immense pressure.

"Hopefully, the PSNI will finally learn from these rulings and no other journalist will ever find themselves in this situation again."

Breen took the Real IRA's claim of responsibility for the murder of two British soldiers at Massereene. The PSNI demanded she hand over her mobile phone, computer and notes relating to stories on dissidents but she refused.

In June, Burgess said she didn't have to hand over the material. He recognised that doing so would place her life in danger from the Real IRA and also that the concept of journalistic confidentiality regarding sources was protected in law.

In his ruling on Friday over Breen's legal bill, Burgess said that even before the case went to court, several articles in the Sunday Tribune had stated that her life and livelihood would be at risk if she cooperated with police.

The PSNI was in a "unique position" to assess the risk yet at the hearing had produced no evidence to counter Breen's concerns, Burgess said.

He "concluded with no difficulty" that the PSNI should pay 75% of Breen's costs for the original case and foot the entire bill for the hearing over costs.