Warrants against Loughinisland journalists to be quashed

'No Stone Unturned' journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney. Credit: Pacemaker

Warrants obtained by police to carry out raids on the homes and offices of ‘No Stone Unturned’ journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey are to be quashed.

Senior High Court judges in Belfast held that authorisation for the searches which led to the arrests of the investigative journalists had been inappropriate.

A further hearing will determine whether documents seized in the operation should be returned.

The outcome represents a victory for Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey in their challenge to the legality of warrants granted as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman’s Office.

Why did they make the focus of their investigations two journalists, rather than using their resources to go after the killers and trying to bring justice to the Loughinisland families almost 25 years later?

Trevor Birney

Following a two-day hearing, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan confirmed: “We are minded to quash the warrants on the basis that they were inappropriate, whatever the other arguments.

“We are going to list the case at 2pm on Friday for a discussion on the question of remedy.”

The case is connected to the murders of six Catholic men at Loughinisland, Co Down in June 1994.

UVF gunmen opened fire in a village pub as their victims watched a World Cup football match.

A memorial plaque to those killed at Loughinisland in 1994. Credit: PA

The journalists were involved in the documentary film No Stone Unturned, which examined the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s handling of the Loughinisland atrocity.

In August last year, they were detained, questioned and released during an operation undertaken by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by PSNI officers.

Judicial review proceedings were brought in a bid to have the warrants declared unlawful.

All of the seized material remains under seal, with police having given an undertaking not to examine any of the documents and computer equipment pending the outcome of the legal action.

Almost 25 years after the massacre, it is not lost on anyone that the only people so far to face a court room are two journalists who bravely exposed the extent of police collusion with the murderers. Journalists must be free to investigate issues of public concern without fear of arrest and imprisonment.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International

Outside court, describing the police operation as an attempt to “send a chill factor through journalists investigating the past in Northern Ireland”, Mr Birney insisted all material seized must now be returned.

He added: “They should hand back the millions of documents, computers, laptops and also the mobile phones belonging to my children that they took from my home.”

During the hearing, lawyers for the two journalists had contended that the search operation was aimed at discovering sources and intimidating whistleblowers.

Judges were told the raids were an “outrage” more akin to a police state than a liberal democracy.