Police in Northern Ireland have gone to court in an attempt to force a journalist to surrender information about the Real IRA, and have sought to have the case heard in private.

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde launched the case after Suzanne Breen, northern editor of the Sunday Tribune, refused to give up materials linked to two articles she wrote about the dissident republican group.

She is refusing to hand over phones, computers, discs, notes and other material relating to the articles.

Her lawyer claims Ms Breen's life could be in danger if she complies with the police demand.

Officers gave her seven days to comply after visiting her Belfast home last week, but the reporter refused to cooperate, insisting she has to protect her sources.

Ms Breen said: 'It is not the job of journalists to be detectives.

'We will be upholding the journalistic code of ethics, which includes the protecting of sources.'

When the case opened before Recorder Tom Burgess in Belfast, counsel for the Chief Constable said he was applying for the case to be heard in the absence of the public and the media because of the sensitivity of the information that would be disclosed.

Barrister Tony McGleenan said he further wanted Ms Breen and her legal representatives to be cleared from the court while a police witness explained to the judge why the case should be heard in camera.

After some legal argument, the judge ordered the court to be cleared while the police witness was sworn in and gave evidence.

The judge said he would rule on Tuesday whether the police application had fallen at the first hurdle, or if it had merit, and then give Ms Breen's barrister time to mount an argument against the decision.

Police are seeking details about the Real IRA's claim of responsibility for the murder of two soldiers at the Massereene Barracks, Co Antrim, in March and in connection with the killing of Provisional IRA informer Denis Donaldson.

The National Union of Journalists has come out in support of Ms Breen.

'If the police begin to use journalists as a tool of intelligence gathering, sources won't have confidence that they can speak openly to the press,' NUJ Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley explained.

'That means stories will go uncovered and journalists will be put in physical danger.'

At a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board yesterday, mR Orde said the public expected police to pursue all lines of inquiry.