Loughinisland: Police drop case against two journalists

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Image caption,
Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney at the High Court hearing on Monday

Police have dropped their investigation into journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

It was confirmed in a statement from police on Monday the case had been dropped.

They were arrested on 31 August over the suspected theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's office.

Durham police were the lead investigators brought in by the PSNI to examine the case against the men.

The investigative journalists had been involved in a documentary film, No Stone Unturned.

It examined the Royal Ulster Constabulary's handling of the 1994 Loughinisland killings by the UVF.

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The attack in Loughinisland took place in June 1994 at the Heights Bar

Six Catholic men were shot dead at Loughinisland, Co Down, after UVF gunmen opened fire in a village pub as their victims watched a World Cup football match.

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.

Trevor Birney said: "At a time when police could have reopened the investigation into those responsible for the murder of six men, instead they used the resources to go after journalists in what the court described as an unlawful investigation."

Mr Birney said this was an "absolutely daft investigation" conducted by "those who could not deal with the truth around Loughinisland."

"We are also asking questions why would the PSNI unleash this assault on press freedom and local journalism at this time?" he said.

"They decided to go after us rather than the killers."

Image caption,
Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey had mounted a legal challenge against the police raids

The two journalists' homes were raided at the time of their arrests last August.

They were detained, questioned and released during an operation undertaken by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) officers.

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".

He 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".

He said the fact that no-one had been brought to justice was "a matter of huge regret for policing".

Durham Chief Constable Mark Barton said some final lines of inquiry had still to be assessed, but these did not include the journalists.

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Chief Constable George Hamilton said the fact that no-one had been brought to justice for Loughinisland was "a matter of huge regret for policing."

He added his officers had, at all times: "acted in good faith, within the law and followed due process".

Lawyers, KRW Law, said in a statement 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 the news tonight 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 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.

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

Earlier on Monday, it was confirmed in court that computers, phones and documents seized by police would be handed back.

The material was taken from the two journalists' homes and offices.

Items seized include memory cards, cameras, phones, computers, cassettes and thousands of files containing millions of pages.

High Court judges last week ruled that the search warrants issued against the two journalists last year were "inappropriate".

The High Court judicial review was heard by Lord Chief Justice Morgan, Lord Justice Treacy and Mrs Justice Keegan.

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey attended the hearing throughout, along with a number of supporters including fellow journalists.

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Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary David Davis, Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists were among those supporting the two men in court.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director, said the journalists had won "a famous victory for press freedom".

"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," he said.

"The Chief Constables of Durham Police and the PSNI owe apologies to Barry and Trevor, as well as their families and colleagues."

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