Loughinisland film-makers can reclaim seized documents, court told
Belfast High Court was told that police have fast-tracked the curation of the material taken from Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.
A haul of journalistic documents and equipment that police inappropriately seized from two documentary makers are available for them to reclaim, a court has heard.
Belfast High Court was told that police have fast-tracked the curation of the material taken from Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey after a judicial ruling quashed warrants used by officers who raided their homes and film company offices.
Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Sir Declan Morgan last week said the granting of the search warrants was “inappropriate” and the two journalists acted in a perfectly proper manner to protect their sources and not hand over the information voluntarily.
The award-winning reporters were arrested last year over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned, which is about the loyalist murders of six men in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.
The pair remain under police investigation and are on bail.
On Friday, Sir Declan and two fellow High Court judges formally quashed the warrant used by police in their search and arrest operation last August.
At a follow-up hearing on Monday, Peter Coll QC, representing the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told the judges Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin had moved to expedite the collection of the material.
“The Deputy Chief Constable ordered the provision of extra resources to arrange for the curation of the seized material as soon as possible,” he said.
“That resulted in the material that was seized from the three premises now (being) available for collection and now it’s a matter of arrangements being made between parties for that to be completed.”
Sir Declan replied: “Thank Mr Martin for his appropriately prompt response in relation to this issue.”
Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey intend to collect the material, which includes computers, hard drives, mobile phones, notebooks and other sensitive documents, at Castlereagh police station in Belfast on Tuesday morning.
Their 2017 film broke new ground by naming suspects it said were involved in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) killings of six Catholic men gathered in a village pub watching the Republic of Ireland play a World Cup football match on TV.
No one has ever been convicted of the murders.
Police are investigating how information contained in a Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland document appeared in No Stone Unturned.
Outside court, Mr McCaffrey urged PSNI chief constable George Hamilton to drop the criminal probe.
“We want our dignity back, they took it off us on August 31 and we want it back and George Hamilton do the right thing – clear our names,” he said.
“We did nothing wrong. George has the power now. There is one last thing to do. The courts have made their rulings, there is one last thing to do – do it now.”
Mr Birney said: “What’s going to happen next is, in agreement with police, is myself and my colleagues will go to Castlereagh police station tomorrow morning at 9.30am to pick up all our materials.
“To pick up the computers, the laptops, the hard drives, the notebooks, the journalistic notebooks, all the papers that were taken from the offices of Fine Point Films but also the materials that were taken from my home, including my laptop and my phone and quite critically for my daughter her USB disc with her technology homework on it and my nine-year-old’s little pink phone. These are all the materials that were taken from our homes and our offices and tomorrow we are going to get that back.
“We are delighted we have got to that stage and this is a very important stage. The warrants have been quashed. But unfortunately I still stand here with Barry on bail. We remain under investigation. We have that cloud hanging over us and until George Hamilton calls off that investigation we will continue to have that cloud hanging over us.”