The PSNI has launched an investigation after it handed over blank interview tapes to arrested Loughinisland journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.
Last year police agreed in the High Court to provide the recordings of officers from the PSNI and Durham Constabulary interviewing the two reporters at Musgrave Street Police Station in August 2018.
However, last week the men’s respective legal representatives both received tapes which were blank apart from opening introductions made by the detectives who were in charge of the interviews.
Mr Birney’s solicitor Niall Murphy told The Detail that the disclosure of the tape recordings of the police interviews was an “explicit term of the settlement agreement” signed last November following his client’s successful judicial review of the PSNI’s decision to arrest him and his colleague, and to raid their homes and office.
On Thursday the PSNI told The Detail it arranged for full recordings of Mr Birney’s interviews to be made available “immediately after” the service became aware that tapes “did not contain the full recordings”.
A week earlier — the day when the first batch of tapes were received — Mr Murphy reviewed them and found all four recordings to be blank.
He informed the Crown Solicitor’s Office, which handled the PSNI and Durham Constabulary legal response to the judicial review, that the tapes were part of a High Court agreement.
“It is a source of great distress for my client that a constituent part of the agreement has not been honoured by your clients. I look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency,” wrote Mr. Murphy.
The tapes, with Mr Birney’s interviews, were received on Friday afternoon at Mr Murphy’s office.
In addition, Mr McCaffrey’s solicitor John Finucane confirmed to The Detail that his client also received blank tapes.
No further ones have been delivered to the solicitor.
Despite being asked, the PSNI did not inform The Detail who was responsible for the handling and original release of the tapes.
However, the PSNI said: “The reason why material did not transfer onto the tapes provided and why this was not identified in advance are being investigated.
“The provision of tapes without recorded content was an error, and certainly not intentional.”
Mr Birney welcomed the PSNI investigation, but queried how police could make a “pre-determination that this was not intentional” prior to the outcome of their probe.
He added: “There is very damning material on those tapes and the initial decision to release them blank only raises further questions about the senior management within the PSNI and their attitude towards the courts and, indeed, their commitments to truth and transparency.
“Once again, the PSNI is launching another investigation in relation to Loughinisland.
“When are they going to get around to investigating the actual massacre of six innocent men?”
Mr McCaffrey said the matter was of “deep concern” and added: “You have to ask why this was done and what they are trying to hide.”
Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested following the release of the film, No Stone Unturned, which examined claims of state collusion in the 1994 UVF massacre at The Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down in which six men died. Last December, both men and the company, Fine Point Films, were awarded over £800,000 in damages after bringing a judicial review to the High Court in Belfast.