Police case and return items to No Stone Unturned journalists

Police case and return items to No Stone Unturned journalists

5 June 2019

POLICE have ped their investigation into award-winning journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, who were involved in the No Stone Unturned documentary which scrutinised the RUC handling of the 1994 Loughinisland atrocity.

Yesterday morning, the investigative journalists were at Castlereagh PSNI station to retrieve memory cards, computers, telephones and other material including cassettes and thousands of files containing millions of pages that had been seized by police from their homes and offices.

The journalists were arrested on August 31 last year over the suspected theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman’s office.

Their arrival at the Belfast police station came just hours after the case against them had been formally dropped and days after Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan insisted that Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had acting properly by protecting their sources.

The High Court also quashed the search warrants in relation to their homes and offices ruling that they were “inappropriate”.

Durham police were the lead investigators brought in by the PSNI to examine the case against the men involved in the No Stone Unturned documentary into the police handling of the Loughinisland killings by the UVF when six innocent Roman Catholic men were gunned down watching a World Cup match on television at the Heights Bar.

The journalists said they were “delighted and relieved”, but their first thoughts were with the Loughinisland families.

“The attack on us was an attack on them. We call on the PSNI and Durham to apologise to them for putting them through this unlawful charade,” they said.

Mr Birney said that at a time when police could have reopened the investigation into those responsible for the murder of six men, they instead used the resources to go after journalists in what the court described as an “unlawful investigation” which he described as “daft and conducted by those who could not deal with the truth around Loughinisland.”

The journalists, who had mounted a legal challenge against the police raids on their homes and offices, were detained, questioned and released during an operation undertaken by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by the PSNI.

On Monday evening, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton thanked Durham Constabulary and Chief Constable Mike Barton for their part in what he called a “sensitive investigation”.

Mr Hamilton said he “fully concurred” with the decision not to progress the investigation, adding that “the horror of what happened in Loughinisland has never been far from any of our thoughts”.

The Chief Constable said the fact that no-one had been brought to justice was “a matter of huge regret for policing”. He said his officers had, at all times “acted in good faith, within the law and followed due process”.

Durham’s Chief Constable said some “final lines of inquiry” had still to be assessed, but these did not include the journalists.

Lawyers KRW Law said in a statement that they had been instructed to make a complaint to the Police Ombudsman in respect of the “’warped investigation which led to the arrests”.

The firm said it was “delighted for our clients Fine Point Films and Trevor Birney and their esteemed colleague Barry McCaffrey, who have received news that the investigation that led to their arrest is to be discontinued. We are obliged to the court for their urgent attention to the issues engaged in this case”.

A lawyer for Mr Birney and documentary maker Fine Point Films told the High Court court last week that the case had “set off alarm bells” among media organisations in Britain, Ireland and the United States.

He said the police search operation was “nothing less than outrageous” and was the kind of operation associated with a police state.

“An ulterior motive was to undermine journalists and whistleblowers from exposing misconduct of the police,” he claimed.

The High Court judicial review was heard by Lord Chief Justice Morgan, Lord Justice Treacy and Mrs Justice Keegan with both journalists attending throughout, along with supporters, fellow journalists, Conservative MP David Davis, Amnesty International and National Union of Journalists representatives.

Amnesty’s Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan said the journalists had won “a famous victory for press freedom”.

He added: “It’s been deeply troubling to see police trying to jail journalists who helped expose human rights abuses, rather than those who actually murdered six innocent people. The Chief Constables of Durham Police and the PSNI owe apologies to Barry and Trevor, as well as their families and colleagues.”

South Down MLA Emma Rogan, whose father, Adrian, was one of the six men who died in the Loughinisland atrocity, said police had done the right thing dropping the case against the investigative journalists.

“The decision to drop the case against Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey is a victory for freedom of the press. This case should never have been pursued in the first place,” she declared.

“The two journalists should be thanked for doing their job and providing a service to society by shining a light on state collusion in the Loughinisland massacre. They exposed British State involvement in one of the most notorious atrocities of the conflict.”

Ms Rogan added: “The police response was to arrest the journalists rather than pursue those responsible for the massacre and cover up. Freedom of the press is a fundamental principle in any democracy. 

“The Chief Constables of Durham Police and the PSNI should apologise to Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney as well as their journalistic colleagues and the Loughinisland families.”