Arrest of journalists in No Stone Unturned ‘to alarm whistleblowers’

Arrest of journalists in No Stone Unturned ‘to alarm whistleblowers’

12 September 2018

THE High Court has heard claims that a search and arrest operation during an investigation into the suspected theft of documents from the Police Ombudsman’s Office was an attempt to intimidate journalists and whistleblowers.

Lawyers for Fine Point Films, who were behind the ‘No Stone Unturned’ documentary into the UVF murders in the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, claimed police had abused their powers.

Two award-winning journalists involved in the film ‘No Stone Unturned’, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were arrested, questioned and released on August 31 as part of the inquiry.

Detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by officers from the PSNI, also searched three properties 

in Belfast, two residential and one business premises.

The Fine Point Films lawyers are now challenging the legality of the search warrant, claiming it did not cover all of the material seized.

Police have given an undertaking not to examine any of the documents and computer equipment pending the outcome of the legal action.

Mr Birney (51) and Mr McCaffrey (48) were both present in court on Friday when their barrister argued that a “vast quantity of journalistic material that has absolutely nothing to do with the investigation” was taken.

Barry Macdonald QC suggested an independent lawyer or a retired judge should be appointed to examine everything seized by police.

“We are conscious that this application gives rise to serious issues concerning freedom of the press and abuse of police powers which, in our submission, have been used to intimidate journalists and prohibit not only journalists but whistleblowers,” he said.

“There is extensive material that has been seized by police which shouldn’t have been seized by police and this company requires to have returned.”

Counsel for the police Peter Coll QC confirmed none of the documents or computer files have been accessed. He added that material may already have been returned to Fine Point Films if the undertaking had not been put in place.

Proceedings were then adjourned to take further instructions on the proposal for an independent assessment of everything seized by police. 

Last week the Loughinisland families vowed to maintain their support for the two journalists arrested.

Relatives of the six men killed in the Heights Bar attack gathered outside the bar to show solidarity with the journalists who produced the ‘No Stone Unturned’ documentary.

Airing last November, the Alex Gibney directed documentary was a hard-hitting examination of claims of state collusion in the murders, which broke new ground by publicly naming what it said were suspects.

The six men killed in the Loughinisland massacre were Adrian Rogan, Barney Green, Dan McCreanor, Eamon Byrne, Malcolm Jenkinson and Patsy O’Hare.