Loughinisland: Journalists released after being held in documents inquiry

‘It’s an attack on the press, everybody should realise,’ Barry McCaffrey said outside police station

Investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (right) outside Musgrave Street police station in Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (right) outside Musgrave Street police station in Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Two investigative journalists who were on Friday arrested over the suspected theft of confidential documents relating to the Loughinisland massacre, were released on Friday night.

Award-winning reporters Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey worked on a documentary on the UVF killings.

Six people were killed on June 18th, 1994, when UVF gunmen burst into the Heights Bar and opened fire on customers as they watched the Republic of Ireland team play Italy in the Fifa World Cup.

Last year’s No Stone Unturned documentary examined claims of British state collusion in the murder and named people it said were suspects.

The men were “released on bail pending further enquiries”, the PSNI said in a statement on behalf of Durham Constabulary.

On Friday a court heard material seized during a the investigation into the suspected theft from the offices of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland will not be examined pending the outcome of a legal challenge to the validity of the search warrant.

An undertaking was given at the High Court in Belfast on behalf of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary.

The men walked out of Musgrave Street police station in Belfast at 8.55pm.

Outside the station Mr McCaffrey said: “ It’s an attack on the press, everybody should realise. It’s us today, tomorrow it could be you.” Mr Birney said it had been a “very difficult day”.

Mr McCaffrey’s lawyer John Finucane said he was “deeply disturbed” by the men’s detention. What I have witnessed today is nothing more than a very sinister attack on the freedom of the press,” he said.

Mr Birney’s solicitor Niall Murphy said his client had gone through four taped interviews in custody. “Throughout those interviews not one scintilla of evidence was put to Mr Birney,” he said.

Families of the victims of the Loughinisland massacre had condemned the arrest.

Film maker Alex Gibney, who produced the programme, described the arrests as “outrageous” while the National Union of Journalists expressed “grave concern”.

The PSNI said the confidential material had been in the possession of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which reported the suspected theft to the police.

Police then asked Durham Police to conduct an independent investigation.

A PSNI spokesman claimed the suspected theft of the documents “potentially puts lives at risk”.

Properties searched

The arrests came on Friday morning after detectives, supported by PSNI officers, searched three properties in the Belfast area, including premises at Upper Arthur Street where The Detail news website and Fine Point Films are based. A number of documents and computer equipment were seized.

Mr Birney (51), founded Fine Point after 20 years working in the media. he has produced a number of documentaries and series for Irish, UK and international broadcasters.

Former Andersonstown News and Irish News reporter, Mr McCaffrey (48), has been researching the Loughinisland atrocity for more than 10 years. He previously worked for The Detail.

Major failings

In 2011, the Police Ombudsman found there had been major failings in the police investigation following the shootings, but said there was no evidence that officers had colluded with the UVF.

However in 2016, a new Ombudsman report found there had been collusion, and the police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect informers.

Spokeswoman for the families, Clare Rogan, said: “Today’s arrests show the lengths of desperation that the British government and state forces are prepared to go to in order to stifle the truth about what happened in Loughinisland.

“These actions are the latest attempt to deter the work of families and journalists who seek to shine the light on the dark levels of collusion at the heart of the British state.”

The NUJ ’s acting general secretary Seamus Dooley saying it was “profoundly depressing to note that, yet again, priority appears to be given to tracking down the source of journalistic stories rather than solving murders”.

“These journalists are entitled to claim journalistic privilege and to seek the protection of the legal system if there is any attempt to force them to reveal sources.” – PA