Journalists behind Loughinisland film to challenge legality of search warrants

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were held over suspected theft of confidential documents

A file image of investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

A file image of investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

 

Two investigative journalists have won High Court permission to challenge the legality of search warrants issued during an investigation into the suspected theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested, questioned and released as part of raids on their homes and a business premises in Belfast last August.

Detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, carried out the operation.

Mr Birney (51) and Mr McCaffrey (48) had been involved in a documentary about the loyalist murders of six men in the 1994, which became known as the Loughinisland massacre.

Lawyers representing the journalists and Fine Point Films, the company behind the film No Stone Unturned, contend the warrants did not cover all of the material seized.

In court on Monday they were granted leave to seek a judicial review on all grounds of challenge - including a claim that relying on the UK’s Official Secrets Act to obtain the warrants was incompatible with their freedom of expression rights under European law.

Lord Justice Treacy, sitting with Mrs Justice Keegan, listed the case for a full hearing over three days in May.

Police have already given an undertaking not to examine any of the seized documents and computer equipment pending the outcome of proceedings.

At a previous hearing it was claimed the search and arrest operation was an abuse of power aimed at intimidating journalists and whistleblowers.

Barristers for Mr Birnie and Mr McCaffrey expressed further concern on Monday about the extent of redactions in documents, and sought assurances that they are free to use papers and transcripts connected to the case.

Barry Macdonald QC said: “The applicants would have a legitimate reason to disclose this material to others, including colleagues and others affected by this issue in the NUJ (National Union of Journalists), and indeed the wider public.”

Lord Justice Treacy directed police to set out their position on redaction and journalistic use of the transcripts by the end of the week.