04/06/2019

Case Against Loughinisland Journalists Dropped

A criminal investigation into Belfast journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey has been dropped.

The investigative reporters were arrested over confidential material they aired in a documentary film about the loyalist murders of six men in Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994.

Yesterday's High Court decision to end the probe comes after judges quashed police warrants last week that had been used to seize the material. The investigation followed allegations made in 2017 that the documents were stolen from the Police Ombudsman's office before appearing in the film 'No Stone Unturned'.

The National Union of Journalists has welcomed the confirmation that the criminal investigation by the PSNI and Durham Constabulary has ended. The two NUJ members were told of the decision on Monday night after arrangements for the return of the journalistic material illegally seized last August were confirmed in the High Court in Belfast.

Police have now gathered millions of documents, computer equipment, cameras, notebooks and phones to return to Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey. The material is due to be collected this morning, Tuesday 04 June.

The NUJ is now calling for an independent investigation into the manner in which the journalists were treated by police.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said: "We welcome the decision to end the investigation but this case raises a number of fundamental questions about the attitude of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary towards the media. The manner in which warrants were secured, the execution of those warrants, the severe bail restrictions imposed on Barry and Trevor and the damage done to their reputation cannot simply be brushed aside on foot of a High Court judgement which could not have been more damning. There should be an independent investigation into the police handling of this case.
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"The focus of police attention should have been on the Loughinisland massacre. The documentary, No Stone Unturned, is profoundly disturbing and serves as a reminder of the significant failures over 25 years to secure justice for the families of that terrible event. The past nine months has caused additional grief and stress to those families. In welcoming the announcement our thoughts are with them at this time."

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton referred the case to Durham Constabulary following the allegation of theft in 2017. In a statement released after the case was dropped, he commented: "I have always accepted the autonomy of Chief Constable Barton's inquiry and I fully concur with his decision not to progress the investigation into the two journalists Mr Birney and Mr McCaffery.

"Throughout the period of this investigation, the horror of what happened in Loughinisland has never been far from any of our thoughts. The perpetrators of that crime have never been brought to justice and that is a matter of huge regret for policing.

"The police investigation into who murdered the six innocent men in the Heights Bar in 1994 remains open but progress is dependent on new information. There are people out there who know what happened. I would appeal to them to come forward and make a statement that will help us finally bring justice to the families of the victims."

Chief Constable Hamilton addressed the distress caused by the recent investigation for the victim's families, but said allegations of document theft are a serious matter that the police are obliged to pursue.

"I am aware that the investigation over the last year has caused concern for families who have already suffered so much," he continued. "That is something none of us would ever have wished to do. However, as a police service, the suspected theft or unlawful leaking of any sensitive documents containing information that may endanger life is a serious matter which we are statutorily obliged to investigate."



(JG/CM)

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