PSNI must now be held to account for our arrest, say cleared journalists
Two arrested documentary makers have retrieved a vast haul of journalistic and personal material unlawfully seized by police and called for senior officers to be held to account.
Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey visited a police station in south Belfast to collect their possessions in a white van hours after detectives dramatically dropped their investigation into them.
Representatives of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Amnesty International held banners in support of the duo.
Police were forced by judges to return laptops, hard drives, mobile phones, notepads and millions of digital files seized from their homes and office.
The outcome of last week's challenge in the courts, which ruled search warrants used by police unlawful, prompted officers to announce on Monday night the probe into the film-makers was being discontinued.
Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were arrested last August over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their 2017 documentary No Stone Unturned about the notorious loyalist massacre at Loughinisland.
The reporters, who insist the material on the 1994 UVF atrocity came from an anonymous whistleblower, had been on bail ever since.
Mr McCaffrey said they were treated like criminals. "Our names were dragged through the mud. Trevor's children were forced to watch him being arrested and taken away, an eight-year-old girl," he said.
The PSNI asked Durham Constabulary to investigate the alleged theft. Both forces confirmed on Monday that the reporters were no longer under investigation, although they said the wider probe would continue.
Mr McCaffrey said he had still not received an apology from the heads of either organisation for their treatment.
He criticised how the judge who granted the search warrant of their office and homes was directed by officers.
"This cannot be allowed to happen. Somebody has to be held to account," he said.
Among the items returned were Mr Birney's wife's phone and his daughter's pink phone.
He said: "The key thing that you can see is finally my daughter is getting her little lollypop USB stick back, which apparently has her GCSE coursework on.
"These were obviously critical to the investigation into myself and Barry and what we are meant to have done.
"It tells you everything you need to know about this investigation."
He said that those who directed, led and oversaw what the police were doing had questions to answer.
"This investigation really had no focus other than sending a chill factor to journalists and no matter who got caught up in that, whether it was my children or Barry's family."
He asked: "What is the evidential value of a pink phone, a USB stick and a lollypop USB stick? It is ridiculous, laughable and people have to be held to account."
Mr Birney said it was a "fishing expedition" which the High Court had "eviscerated" in a damning indictment of the leadership of the PSNI.