Belfast Telegraph

Police chief orders 'extra resources' over weekend in bid to return Loughinisland seized material quicker

Journalists pledge not to destroy material in case police mount appeal

Two journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey attend Belfast High Court on Monday.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Two journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey attend Belfast High Court on Monday. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

By Alan Erwin

Two Belfast journalists can now reclaim all material seized during raids on their homes and offices, the High Court has heard.

Judges were told police have gathered together millions of documents, computer equipment, cameras, notebooks and phones for their return to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

It follows the decision to quash search warrants obtained for raids linked to their film documentary on the Loughinisland atrocity.

Mr Birney and McCaffrey are set to collect their possessions at Castlereagh PSNI station in the city on Tuesday morning.

They also gave pledges not to destroy any of the material for a period of 28 days.

The undertaking gives police time to consider attempting a different legal route to obtain the documents through seeking a production order.

With the journalists pressing for the immediate return of all their belongings, the court was originally told the process could take up to a fortnight.

But counsel for the police, Peter Coll QC, disclosed on Monday that Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin ordered extra resources to ensure everything was curated over the weekend.

"That has resulted in the fact the materials seized from three premises are now available for collection," he said.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan asked the barrister to pass on his thanks to Mr Martin for the "appropriately prompt" response.  

The issue of remedies came after the journalists won their challenge to the legality of warrants granted as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office.

The case is connected to the film No Stone Unturned, which examined how Royal Ulster Constabulary dealt with the loyalist murders of six Catholic men at Loughinisland, Co Down in June 1994.

Last week the court held that authorisation for the searches which led to the arrest of Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had been inappropriate.

Sir Declan said the warrants were legally flawed, with a lack of clarity around what potential offence was being investigated under the Official Secrets Act.

It was also stressed how Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had acted properly to protect their sources, in line with the National Union of Journalists' (NUJ) code.

In August last year they were detained, questioned and released during an operation undertaken by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by PSNI officers.

Judicial review proceedings were brought in a bid to have the warrants declared unlawful.

During the hearing lawyers for Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey contended that the search operation was aimed at discovering sources and intimidating whistleblowers.

Judges were told the raids were an "outrage" more akin to a police state than a liberal democracy.

Now arrangements are in place for the handover of everything seized

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