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Concern, outrage as two North journalists arrested

Barry McCaffrey (right) being presented with the Overall Justice Media Award by Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin. The presentation was in 2014 and for McCaffrey’s investigation into the use of solitary confinement in Northern Ireland’s prisons.


By Irish Echo Staff

There has been expressions of concern and outrage over the arrests today of two Northern Ireland investigative journalists.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were detained in Belfast on Friday morning over the suspected theft of confidential documents relating to the notorious Loughinisland massacre, the Irish Times reported.

Both men worked on a documentary about the 1994 loyalist murders at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down.

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Six patrons in the bar were gunned down by loyalist killers, members of the UVF, as they were watching the Republic of Ireland soccer team play a World Cup game in the U.S.

That documentary, “No Stone Unturned,” was shown to U.S. audiences earlier this year.

One screening, in Washington, D.C., was hosted by Friends of Ireland chairman, Congressman Richard Neal, and held in the U.S. Capitol in early March.

Trevor Birney was in attendance at the Capitol screening which drew several other members of Congress in addition to Rep. Neal.

Alex Gibney, who produced “No Stone Unturned,” described the arrests as “outrageous”.

According to the Irish Times, police said the confidential material, which officers say featured in the documentary, had been in the possession of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

A police spokesman has claimed that the suspected theft of the documents “potentially puts lives at risk,” the report stated.

Birney and McCaffrey were initially arrested by police officers based in Durham in the north of England, a move which would indicate an investigation in both the North and Britain.

Separately, searches were carried out by PSNI officers in Belfast. A number of documents and computer equipment were seized during the raids.

Stated the Times report: “In 2011, the Police Ombudsman found there had been major failings in the police investigation following the shootings, but said there was no evidence that officers had colluded with the UVF.

“However in 2016, a new Ombudsman report found there had been collusion, and the police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect informers. In 2017, the No Stone Unturned documentary named the main suspects.

After the arrests, the National Union of Journalists, which represents journalists in both Britain and Ireland, expressed “grave concern” at the arrests with acting general secretary Seamus Dooley saying it was “profoundly depressing to note that, yet again, priority appears to be given to tracking down the source of journalistic stories rather than solving murders in Northern Ireland.”

Said Dooley: “We note the confiscation of computers and data held by Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Every step must be taken to ensure that data held on computers is not compromised and that the confidentiality of the sources are not put in jeopardy.

“The protection of journalistic sources of confidential information is of vital importance and journalists must be free to operate in the public interest without police interference. These journalists are entitled to claim journalistic privilege and to seek the protection of the legal system if there is any attempt to force them to reveal sources.”

The Irish News in Belfast reported that the Loughinisland families would be holding a protest at the Heights Bar Friday evening following the arrests.