Belfast Telegraph

Union calls for threat of prosecution against Belfast journalists to be lifted

Investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey, left and Trevor Birney (Liam McBurney/PA)
Investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey, left and Trevor Birney (Liam McBurney/PA)

By Michael Shiels McNamee

The union representing journalists in Ireland and the UK has called for the threat of prosecution to be lifted against two journalists involved in the making of a documentary about the Loughinisland massacre.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey of Fine Point Films were involved in the production of No Stone Unturned, which documents the murder of six men by loyalist paramilitaries at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down in 1994.

The film was made by renowned US documentary maker Alex Gibey.

Both men were arrested in August, with Durham Constabulary saying it was investigating the theft of documents from the Police Ombudsman's office, with the theft having originally been reported to the PSNI who referred it on.

In a statement to the Irish Times, the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland Dr Michael Maguire said: "We did not make a complaint of theft.”

Durham Constabulary and the PSNI did not make a comment to the newspaper due to ongoing legal proceedings.

The National Union of Journalists, which represents journalists across the UK and Ireland, called for "the threat of prosecution" to be lifted.

In a statement on Thursday, Irish secretary of the NUJ Seamus Dooley said that the revelation undermined the actions of Durham police and the PSNI.

"The threat of prosecution should be lifted, and a full explanation given to Barry and Trevor. The context of this statement is important: two journalists were arrested, and the offices of a film production company raided on the basis of a warrant which the NUJ believes was granted in entirely unacceptable circumstances," Mr Dooley said.

"Two of our members were humiliated by very public arrests amid a blaze of publicity, even though they were at all times available for questioning. The PSNI could simply have sought an appointment at a local police station."

Mr Dooley said that the arrests had a profound effect on Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey.

"Severe travel limitations have been placed on Barry and Trevor: they have, for example, to give three days’ notice to the PSNI when visiting their union official in Dublin. Until now there was a clear understanding that the arrests followed a formal complaint of theft by the ombudsman. If there was no complaint, why were these journalists arrested?," he said.

"I would also ask why the Police Ombudsman has remained silent for over two months while journalists have had their human rights compromised and their ability to work undermined due to police action based on an alleged complaint by his office.

"We are calling on An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise this case with the Northern Ireland Secretary as a matter of urgency. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness and today’s revelations cannot be ignored. Neither the Irish or British governments should hide behind a flawed process now shown to be based on a false claim.”

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the revelation was "deeply disturbing".

“This revelation completely undermines the whole basis of the men’s arrests," the North Belfast MLA said.

“These arrests were an attack on the freedom of press which is a fundamental element of any democratic society that allows journalists to carry out their work unhindered and the PSNI clearly have serious questions to answer.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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