Northern Ireland: Important day for press freedom as police search warrants quashed

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

Amnesty International has welcomed the outcome of a judicial review in Belfast that quashed the warrant authorising police raids on the homes and offices of investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, and directed police to return their seized materials ‘forthwith’.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

“This is an important day and a vital decision for press freedom in the UK. Every journalist in the UK owes a huge debt to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey for taking on, and winning, this case.

“If they had been unsuccessful in court this week, then every reporter in receipt of leaked official documents would have had to live in fear of dawn raids by the police and potential prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

“The police acted outrageously against the two journalists in this case, and it is right that the court has now ordered the return of all the journalists’ material seized on August 31 last year.

“Trevor and Barry have already endured nine months of stress and remain under arrest - but left court today with their professional reputation wholly vindicated.

“In contrast, the police have emerged with their reputation tarnished, and senior officers in Durham and in Belfast now have serious questions to answer.

“It is unacceptable that the bereaved families of Loughinisland are today not an inch closer to justice than 25 years ago, when the police promised they would leave ‘no stone unturned’ in the pursuit of the killers.”

Arrested and questioned

In a judicial review at Belfast High Court, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey challenged the legitimacy of the search warrants used by police to carry out the raids. Both the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Durham Constabulary are involved in the ongoing criminal investigation.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested and questioned by police in August 2018 in connection with the documentary film ‘No Stone Unturned’. They were arrested in connection with an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act, relating to confidential documents about the police investigation of the murder of six men in a bar in the village of Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994.

A 2016 report from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland found that there had been collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Volunteer Force killers, and that the subsequent police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect those responsible for the massacre.

The 2017 film, ‘No Stone Unturned’ – directed by Oscar-winning film-maker Alex Gibney – explored the unsolved killings and police investigation in detail, and named one of the alleged killers.

In August last year, it was estimated that up to 100 police officers from the PSNI and Durham Constabulary raided the journalists’ homes and offices, seizing documents and computers, which the men are fighting to have returned.

The pair have not been charged and remain on bail until September 2019.

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