Arrests of journalists queried as ombudsman denies reporting theft of documents

Loughinisland documentary-makers were held on suspicion of stealing confidential files

Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney of Fine Point Films were arrested in August. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney of Fine Point Films were arrested in August. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Two Belfast journalists were arrested in August on suspicion of the theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland’s office, even though the ombudsman never reported a theft, it now emerges.

Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney of Fine Point Films were part of the team that produced No Stone Unturned, a documentary film by US director Alex Gibney.

It investigated the police investigation into the massacre of six men by loyalist paramilitaries in a pub in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.

Following the arrests, Durham Constabulary said they were investigating a report of theft of documents from the ombudsman’s office.

‘Independent investigation’

“Officials from Police Ombudsman of NI reported the theft to PSNI, who in turn asked Durham Constabulary to conduct an independent investigation,” the statement said, adding that the arrests were “significant”.

Responding to a series of detailed questions last week from The Irish Times however, a spokesman for the police ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said: “We did not make a complaint of theft.”

Durham Constabulary and the PSNI both said they could not comment “due to ongoing legal proceedings”. Mr Birney’s solicitor now argues the ombudsman’s declaration that he never reported a theft “undermines the entire integrity” of the arrests.

Niall Murphy of KRW Law in Belfast said he would now seek to have the arrests declared illegal.