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Journalists demand apology from police chief after judges quash search warrant

A panel of judges found the conduct of the hearing to obtain the warrant fell ‘woefully short’ of the standard required.

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Belfast journalists Barry McCaffrey (left), solicitor Niall Murphy, journalist Trevor Birney, solicitor John Finucane and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

Belfast journalists Barry McCaffrey (left), solicitor Niall Murphy, journalist Trevor Birney, solicitor John Finucane and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

Belfast journalists Barry McCaffrey (left), solicitor Niall Murphy, journalist Trevor Birney, solicitor John Finucane and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

Two journalists have called for an apology from the PSNI chief after the Court of Appeal quashed a search warrant used to raid their homes and offices.

Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were arrested over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned on a notorious loyalist massacre in Loughinisland during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Last year judges ruled search warrants used by police had been “inappropriate”.

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Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International (left), journalist Trevor Birnie, solicitor John Finucane, journalist Barry McCaffrey and solicitor Niall Murphy at outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International (left), journalist Trevor Birnie, solicitor John Finucane, journalist Barry McCaffrey and solicitor Niall Murphy at outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International (left), journalist Trevor Birnie, solicitor John Finucane, journalist Barry McCaffrey and solicitor Niall Murphy at outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. (Rebecca Black/PA)

This resulted in the criminal probe into the journalists being discontinued.

On Friday a panel of judges sitting in the Court of Appeal ruled the conduct of the hearing to obtain the search warrant fell “woefully short” of the standard required to ensure that the hearing was fair.

The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan delivered the judgment on behalf of a panel which included Lord Justice Treacy and Mrs Justice Keegan, telling the court that the journalists had at all times acted as investigative reporters adhering to their professional code.

“We see no overriding requirement in the public interest which could have justified an interference with the protection of journalistic sources in this case,” he said.

The PSNI responded with a statement saying: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland will now take time to consider the judgment.”

Speaking outside court, Mr McCaffrey and Mr Birney demanded an apology from PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

All we did was our job.Barry McCaffrey

“I hope that Simon Byrne this evening sees that he has to now apologise, this didn’t happen on his watch but the responsibility falls on his shoulders to put this right and he should be putting it right immediately,” Mr Birney said.

“He doesn’t need time to study this judgment. He lost 10-nil in court, police should never have arrested us, they should never have searched our homes and offices and they should not have put us through this ordeal.”

Mr McCaffrey added: “Journalists throughout Ireland and the UK were waiting for this judgment because it has now copper-fastened protections. The highest court in the land has protected our right to protect sources and to ask the difficult questions.

“All we did was our job.”

The NUJ hailed the judgment as an historic victory for journalism.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “We very much welcome the decision of the judges to quash the warrants and the bold emphasis they have placed on the right of journalists to protect their sources.

“Journalists must not be treated as criminals, they must not have their homes and offices raided, simply for doing their jobs.”

PA