Belfast Telegraph

We will never be the same again, says Loughinisland journalist after arrest

Alex Gibney (left) speaks during a discussion in the Ulster Museum hosted by Docs Ireland Film Festival event with Kathryn Johnston, Sean Murray and Barry McCaffrey
Alex Gibney (left) speaks during a discussion in the Ulster Museum hosted by Docs Ireland Film Festival event with Kathryn Johnston, Sean Murray and Barry McCaffrey

By Rebecca Black

An award-winning Belfast journalist, arrested in an investigation where the case against him recently collapsed, says the experience has left a mark on him.

Barry McCaffrey said he will not be the same again after he was arrested last August along with his colleague Trevor Birney.

The journalists were arrested over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned about the 1994 loyalist Loughinisland massacre.

The Lord Chief Justice recently ruled search warrants used by police had been "inappropriate", resulting in the criminal probe into the pair being dropped.

Mr McCaffrey was speaking yesterday at the Docs Ireland Film Festival event, Freedom of the Press: Are investigative journalists safe to work in Ireland, which took place at the Ulster Museum.

"It's like a death, you go through all the emotions, you've got the anger, you've got the guilt, the guilt about what you are doing to your family," he said.

"Trevor's children had to watch him being arrested, my mother who battled cancer... we were big enough and bold enough, we knew the risks we were going through, but it was stress and the hassle that you put your family through, to me, that's the guilt for me.

"Have we changed, will we ever be the same again? Without over dramatising it, I don't think we probably will because I think it's left this mark on us.

"Is it the end of the world? No. Emma Rogan lost a daddy (in the Loughinisland shootings), and there are other people here who lost family members, we lost nothing."

Mr Birney said after the arrest, he feels that the risk to journalists is from the state and not from the street.

"I think we have got to be thankful that the courts are independent and the court in our case acted so robustly in response to what was an attack on free speech and an attack on Press freedom in Belfast," he said.

"I'm not sure that if we were working inside a media organisation in London that this would have happened to us."

Sean Murray, a documentary maker who also appeared on the event panel, revealed that when he was making his film Unquiet Graves in 2017, he was informed by police that there was a threat to his life.

"When police come to tell you, you've had a death threat, they don't tell you the reasons for the death threat, they just tell you to take these precautions. I did not want to publicise it at the time," he said.

Author Susan McCann said journalists post-Troubles are discovering "all kinds of other risks", and highlighted the killing of Lyra McKee who was shot by the New IRA in April as a stark example of the dangers faced by the media.

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