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Loughinisland journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey reach 'agreement in principle' with PSNI over unlawful raids


Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (Liam McBurney/PA)

Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (Liam McBurney/PA)

Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (Liam McBurney/PA)

Two Belfast journalists have reached "agreement in principle" with police on all outstanding issues from the unlawful raids on their homes, the High Court was told on Tuesday.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey have been seeking to ensure no information is retained on the PSNI's systems.

A potential lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment was also explored following a ruling that warrants for the searches were wrongly obtained.

But it emerged on Tuesday that a final settlement is now close to being confirmed.

It is understood that the Policing Board has already endorsed the proposed resolution, with the Department of Justice still to sign off on the terms.

In August 2018 Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were detained, questioned and released in a case linked to a documentary film on the Loughinisland atrocity.

Raids were also carried out at their homes and offices after warrants were granted as part of an investigation into the suspected theft of confidential papers from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office.

Computer equipment, files, phones, cameras and notebooks were all seized during an operation undertaken by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by PSNI officers.

The case was connected to the No Stone Unturned film, which examined the Royal Ulster Constabulary's handling of the loyalist murders of six Catholic men at Loughinisland, Co Down in June 1994.

In May last year the journalists won their challenge to the legality of warrants which were granted at an ex parte hearing.

The High Court found that authorisation for the searches had been inappropriate, and that Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had at all times acted as investigative reporters adhering to their professional code by protecting sources.

Days later police announced they had dropped their investigation into the pair.

Even though all confiscated material was returned to the journalists after the search warrants were quashed, backed-up information remained on police systems.

Subsequent efforts focused on securing a final remedy over any copied data still stored by the PSNI, including a process of mediation.

In court on Tuesday Barry Macdonald QC, for Mr Birney, disclosed: "The parties have now reached an agreement in principle."

Peter Coll QC, representing the police, confirmed the development following what he described as "detailed negotiations".

He added, however, that authorisation is still to be obtained from "certain organisations outside the PSNI" before a final resolution can be announced.

Although a hearing on all remaining issues is listed for later this month, Mr Coll said it was unlikely that any further court adjudications will be required.

Adjourning for a further update in one week's time, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan told the parties: "There's obviously been a lot of hard work done up to now, but we have to try to put a full stop to this case."

Belfast Telegraph