Chief constable claims ombudsman did report document theft

Mike Barton and Dr Michael Maguire at odds over whether formal complaint lodged

Investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey: were arrested in August in connection with alleged theft of a document. Photograph:  Liam McBurney/PA

Investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey: were arrested in August in connection with alleged theft of a document. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

 

Durham Constabulary’s chief constable has insisted Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman did report the theft of a confidential document that triggered the arrest of two journalists in August, despite a denial from the watchdog.

Chief Constable Mike Barton and ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire are sharply at odds after the former insisted that a formal complaint had been made that documents had been stolen from its offices.

The two journalists were part of a team that produced the documentary film, No Stone Unturned, released in October last year, about the still-unsolved 1994 Loughinisland massacre, when six men were shot dead in a pub by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Chief Constable Barton said that the ombudsman’s office had reported the theft to the PSNI at a meeting on October 4th, 2017, “immediately after identifying the fact that some its ‘secret’ documents had featured in the film”.

‘Criminal investigation’

“This criminal investigation has a definite and clear starting point. The report by [the ombudsman] was subsequently followed up by a written statement of complaint by a member of their senior management team.

“The statement acknowledges that, following this initial report, Durham Constabulary would be conducting a criminal investigation into theft or other unauthorised disclosures,” Chief Constable Barton went on.

On Thursday night, the ombudsman’s office would not comment, pending discussions among senior officials. It said previously that it had briefed the PSNI about security risks posed for individuals by the film, but that it had never made a complaint of theft.”

“We understand that the PSNI commissioned Durham police to investigate the means by which the film’s production team secured access to the material, whether by theft or other unauthorised disclosure,” it said.

Following calls from the National Union of Journalists, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it would not comment on ongoing legal proceedings, but added: “Obviously, in a democracy, press freedom is essential.”