Belfast Telegraph

Arrest of reporters sends chilling message, journalist claims

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested over the alleged theft of confidential material from the Police Ombudsman.

Investigative journalists Trevor Birney (left) and Barry McCaffrey at The Detail offices in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
Investigative journalists Trevor Birney (left) and Barry McCaffrey at The Detail offices in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The decision to arrest two Belfast reporters should send a chilling message to investigative journalists, it has been claimed.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested last August by officers from Durham Constabulary over the alleged theft of confidential material from the offices of the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire.

The material relates to a police investigation into the murder of six men in Loughinisland.

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Patsy O’Hare, Barney Green, Adrian Rogan, (bottom row left to right) Eamon Byrne, Daniel McCreanor and Malcom Jenkinson, who were killed in the tiny Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down by UVF gunmen (PA)

A 2016 report from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland found that there had been collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Volunteer Force killers.

The 2017 film, No Stone Unturned – directed by Oscar-winning film-maker Alex Gibney – explored the unsolved killings and police investigation in detail, and named one of the alleged killers.

Speaking at Amnesty’s Media Awards ceremony in London on Wednesday, Mr Birney is expected to warn that the decision to arrest him and Mr McCaffrey was a “deliberate decision designed to protect state secrets and send a chilling message to investigative journalists”.

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Journalists Barry McCaffrey (right) and Trevor Birney (second left) with their solicitors Niall Murphy (left) and John Finucane arrive at Musgrave police station in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA wire)

“None of the paramilitaries who shot dead six men and injured five others in June 1994 have ever been charged or convicted. Today the case is still demanding significant police resources,” he is expected to say.

“However, rather than pursuing those who carried out the massacre, detectives have been directed to go after us – the journalists who exposed the story of the collusion between police and the killers.”

Mr McCaffrey described press freedom as a human right.

“It’s a principle that has to be protected at all costs. This is a battle that human rights defenders cannot afford to lose. Make no mistake, every journalist and their ability to hold government to account is under threat,” he is expected to say.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, added: “Amnesty is deeply concerned at the arrests of two of the most widely-respected journalists in Northern Ireland, and the seizure of documents and computer equipment.

“The arrest has sent a shiver of fear through media across Northern Ireland and we are in no doubt that press freedom is now at grave risk.”

PA

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