Journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were the subject of an investigation on suspicion of theft of confidential documents, but have this week been cleared of all charges.
Police in Northern Ireland and England have dropped a highly controversial investigation into journalists who made a documentary about one of the darkest moments of The Troubles following a public outcry.
Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested last August on suspicion of theft of confidential documents relating to the Loughinisland massacres but were subsequently released on bail.
Durham police, acting in accordance with the PSNI, arrested the men in a dawn raid last August on suspicion of stealing an unredacted police ombudsman investigation into the massacre. The Durham police force was asked to take over the case by the PSNI who wanted to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Read more: Journalists arrested in dawn raids.
However, the investigation has now been dropped and the pair have been immediately released from police bail. Today, they will be able to retrieve computers, files, phones and other materials that had been seized during the investigation.
Speaking after the Belfast High Court decision on Monday, Birney and McCaffrey said that the police had finally “accepted that by arresting us and raiding our homes and offices, they were the ones who acted unlawfully.”
“The PSNI put the cudgel in the hands of the Durham Constabulary and let them loose on us and on press freedom itself.”
Birney and McCaffrey’s 2017 documentary, No Stone Unturned, investigated a night when Ulster Volunteer Force gunmen opened fire in a nationalist pub, slaughtering customers as they watched Ireland take part in the 1994 World Cup in the USA. In total, six nationalists were murdered, while a further five were seriously injured. No one was ever charged for the murders.
No Stone Unturned named the main suspects in the case and alluded to contacts between members of the police and the killers.
Read more: Suspects named for the first time.
The two journalists said that their thoughts were with the families of the Loughlinisland massacre first and foremost and called on both the PSNI and the Durham police force to make a public apology for the “charade” they had to endure.
Dolores Kelly of the SDLP welcomed the news that the investigation had been quashed, stating that the two men had “faced an incredible ordeal simply for speaking the truth to power.”
“Instead of criminalizing their entirely professional and ethical actions, their contribution to seeking justice for the Loughinisland families should be hailed.”
The decision has been lauded as a victory for press freedom and an embarrassment for the police services, but Durham’s chief constable Mike Barton was defiant in the face of criticism, stating that his officers had “acted in good faith, within the law and followed due process” at all times.
PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said he agreed with the decision to drop the investigation into the journalists and urged anyone with information regarding the Loughinisland massacre to come forward.