Belfast Telegraph

PSNI spent almost £250k in Loughinisland documents theft probe

Scene of the massacre in 1994
Scene of the massacre in 1994

Police have spent almost £250,000 investigating the alleged theft of confidential documents linked to the Loughinisland massacre.

The cost of the controversial probe - which saw two journalists arrested - is expected to rise.

A Policing Board member said they believe the final bill will exceed £500,000.

In June the PSNI dropped its investigation into Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

Journalists Trevor Birney (left) and Barry McCaffrey
Journalists Trevor Birney (left) and Barry McCaffrey

They were arrested last August over the suspected theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman’s office.

Durham police were the lead investigators, brought in by the PSNI.

The probe, codenamed OP Yurta, involved more than 50 officers and had cost £247,874 as of June 30.

However, the PSNI said it was “an ongoing investigation and costs will be still incurred”.

The details were obtained after a Freedom of Information request.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, who sits on the Policing Board, said she believes the final bill will top £500,000.

“Many people will be at a loss to explain how this matter escalated and how these costs have arisen,” she said.

“In many cases a decision to investigate will be defended as being in the public interest, but questions were raised from the very outset as to the wisdom of pursuing this case.”

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had been involved in the No Stone Unturned documentary, which examined the RUC’s handling of the Loughinisland massacre.

The victims (top row from left) Patrick O'Hare, Adrian Rogan, Barney Green and (bottom from left) Eamon Byrne, Daniel McCreanor and
Malcolm Jenkinson
The victims (top row from left) Patrick O'Hare, Adrian Rogan, Barney Green and (bottom from left) Eamon Byrne, Daniel McCreanor and Malcolm Jenkinson

Six Catholic men were shot dead when UVF gunmen opened fire in the village pub as their victims watched a World Cup football match in June 1994.

The victims included Barney Green, who at 87 was the oldest victim of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

No-one has ever been convicted of the murders.

In a 2016 report, then Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire concluded the security forces colluded with the UVF killers.

The No Stone Unturned documentary named suspects it said were involved in the massacre.

Police investigated how information contained in a Police Ombudsman document appeared in the film.

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey said the document was leaked anonymously.

They have questioned why investigative resources are being diverted to their film when the Loughinisland killers have not been caught.

Then PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, citing a potential conflict of interest, asked Durham Constabulary to take on the probe.

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were arrested on August 31 2018, and had been on bail.

In June detectives dropped their investigation into the two men.

It followed a challenge in the civil courts, which ruled search warrants used by police unlawful.

Details of the police investigation were released after Freedom of Information requests to Durham Constabulary and the PSNI.

The PSNI responded on behalf of both forces.

It said Durham Constabulary spent 1,162 hours on the investigation, and used three civilian investigators.

The PSNI could not provide the specific number of hours worked on the investigation by its officers.

Its investigating team included one detective sergeant and one detective constable, utilised one day per week “assisting with general enquiries during the investigation”

It added: “There were approximately 50 officers utilised for specific duties including searches, interviews and examining exhibits and following on from these post search duties there were approximately four officers utilised for a one week period examining exhibits.”

On the cost of the investigation, it said: “PSNI can confirm that it will cover all of the costs of this investigation.

“Costs to date including those billed from Durham Constabulary in relation to Op Yurta up to June 30 2019 and received by PSNI by that date were £247,874.42.

“Please note this is an ongoing investigation and costs will be still incurred and further invoices submitted.”

Mrs Kelly, an SDLP MLA for Upper Bann, added: “The whole matter has been very badly handled and raised more questions than it has answered.

“Now we learn about the massive amount of money that has been spent on the investigation, at a time when the current and previous Chief Constable has been talking about not having enough money in the budget.

“The whole thing is shambolic and I think the Policing Board will have many more questions to ask around this.”

Crime Operations Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray defended the expenditure.

She said: “In 2017, PSNI became aware of an alleged theft and/or unlawful disclosure of sensitive documents relating to  the Loughinisland Investigation from the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

“The suspected theft or unlawful disclosure of any sensitive documents containing information that may endanger life is a serious matter and one which needs thoroughly investigated.

“Given the sensitivities in the case, and to ensure independence;  Durham Constabulary were commissioned to lead the investigation.

“As part of Durham Constabulary’s investigation, two men were arrested in August 2018 and search warrants were obtained from the County Court to search for and seize journalistic material.

“Following a Judicial Review in June, a decision was taken not to progress the investigation into the two journalists and PSNI are awaiting the written judgment from the Lord Chief Justice.

“However, the investigation into the alleged theft and/or unlawful disclosure of sensitive documents from the Office of the Police Ombudsman is still ongoing with some final lines of inquiry being assessed and the PSNI is awaiting the outcome of this.”

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