Belfast Telegraph

Police seized child's GCSE coursework during Loughlinisland film investigation

Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

Police seized a USB stick containing GCSE coursework belonging to the daughter of a Belfast journalist as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of documents from the Police Ombudsman's office.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey hit out at the police investigation, carried out by Durham Constabulary with support from the PSNI, after visiting a police station in south Belfast to collect their possessions on Tuesday.

A court ordered the return of laptops, hard drives, mobiles phones, notepads and millions of digital files after a judge found that the material had been seized illegally last August.

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A haul of journalistic material in plastic bags, after being unlawfully seized by police following the making of the Loughinisland documentary. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Mr Birney, while showing the press what material had been seized, said: "This is what was taken from my home, or part of what was taken from my home. You can see my wife's phone, you can see my daughter's little pink phone that some how police have decided to take apart.

"But the key thing you can see is finally my daughter is getting back her little lollipop USB stick, which apparently has her GCSE coursework on it. These were obviously critical to the investigation into myself and Barry and into what we are meant to have done.

"It tells you everything you need to know about this investigation."

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were arrested last August over the alleged theft of a police watchdog documents that appeared in their film on a Loughinisland massacre during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

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(left to right) Solicitor Niall Murphy with investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney.

The reporters, who insist the material on the Loughinisland killings came from an anonymous whistleblower, had been on bail ever since.

On Monday night the PSNI and Durham Constabulary dropped the case against the documentary film-makers.

Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton insisted that his officers acted in good faith, within the law and followed due process at all times.

Mr McCaffrey said that the pair had been "treated like criminals" and said they have not received an apology from either force.

"Our names were dragged through the mud," he said.

"Trevor's children were forced to watch him being arrested, an eight-year-old girl. Was this necessary?

"Why did this have to happen. Mike Barton has said nothing was done wrong. The courts didn't think so. The Lord Chief Justice didn't think so."

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Investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney carry returned documents in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Mr Birney, when asked how he felt about his family's personal property being seized, said: "It is because this investigation really had no focus other than sending a chill factor to journalists.

"No matter who got caught up in it, whether it was my children or Barry's family. Obviously the people who directed this investigation, who led it and overseen what the police were doing, have questions to answer.

"What is the evidential value of a pink phone, a USB stick and a lollipop USB stick. It is ridiculous, it is laughable and I think they has to be questions asked and answers given. People have to be held to account and the key question is, what really was this about?"

The PSNI had asked Durham Police to investigate the alleged theft.

Both organisations confirmed on Monday that the reporters were no longer under investigation – though they said the probe into the alleged theft would continue.

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Investigative journalists Trevor Birney (second left) and Barry McCaffrey speaking to media outside Castlereagh Police Station in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, who is a member of the Policing Board, welcomed the decision to dropped the investigation into the journalists.

"This is a victory for freedom of the press," he said.

“This case should never have been pursued in the first place.

"The two journalists should be thanked for doing their job and providing a service to society by shining a light on state collusion in the Loughinisland massacre.

“They exposed British State involvement in one of the most notorious atrocities of the conflict.

“The police response was to arrest the journalists rather than pursue those responsible for the massacre and cover up.

“Freedom of the press is a fundamental principle in any democracy.

“The Chief Constables of Durham Police and the PSNI should apologise to Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney as well as their journalistic colleagues and the Loughinisland families.“

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