Belfast Telegraph

Lawyer Clooney urged to take up Northern Ireland journalists' case as part of special envoy role

Appointment: Amal Clooney
Appointment: Amal Clooney

By Staff Reporter

International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has been urged to intervene in the case of two Northern Ireland journalists who were arrested by the PSNI.

Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were detained last year over the alleged theft of documents, linked to the Loughinisland massacre, from the Police Ombudsman's Office.

Amnesty International has asked Mrs Clooney, who was appointed yesterday as the Government's special envoy on media freedom, to take on the case.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's Northern Ireland programme director, said his organisation was seeking an early meeting with the high-profile lawyer about the treatment of Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey.

"We welcome the UK Government's initiative to promote press freedom around the world. However, the UK must also address concerns here at home if it is to have credibility as an international champion for media freedom," he said.

"The arrest of these widely-respected journalists has had a chilling effect on media across Northern Ireland and we are in no doubt that press freedom is now at grave risk."

Mr Birney (51) and Mr McCaffrey (48) were arrested last August in connection with the alleged theft of confidential documents.

The papers relate to the RUC investigation of the murder of six men in a bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.

A 2016 report from the Police Ombudsman found there had been collusion between the RUC and the UVF killers and that the subsequent police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect those responsible for the massacre.

The 2017 film 'No Stone Unturned' explored the unsolved killings and police investigation in detail and named one of the alleged killers.

Both Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had been involved in the documentary about the massacre.

Last August, officers from the PSNI and Durham Constabulary raided the journalists' homes and offices, seizing documents and computers, which the journalists are fighting to have returned.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "This case is the biggest specific threat to press freedom in UK at the moment.

"The arrest of two NUJ members and the ongoing legal threats are an appalling abuse of power and should be a major concern to all journalists and everyone who cares about investigative journalism, human rights and civil liberties."

Amal Clooney said she was "honoured" to have been appointed a special envoy on media freedom.

She was made special envoy by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mrs Clooney will also chair a panel of legal experts to find ways to prevent and reverse media abuses.

"Through my legal work defending journalists I have seen first-hand the ways in which reporters are being targeted and imprisoned in an effort to silence them and prevent a free media," she added.

"I welcome the UK Government's focus on this issue at a time when journalists are being killed and imprisoned at record levels all over the world, and I look forward to working on new legal initiatives that can help to ensure a more effective international response."

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