Thanks to some superb reporting in The Irish Times, we now know that the recent arrests of two journalists who put together the Alex Gibney-directed documentary “No Stone Unturned” was the ultimate British dirty trick.
The documentary revealed the real events behind the killing of seven innocent Catholics at The Heights pub in Loughinisland during a World cup match between Ireland and Italy on June 16, 1994. Six patrons were killed and five were injured in what became known as the “World Cup Massacre.”
The searing documentary named the alleged killer and the UVF gang he belonged to, who were working in tandem with British security forces who deliberately botched the follow-up investigation.
In August this year the two journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, were very publicly arrested and charged with stealing documents from the Ombudsman's office. (The Ombudsman is essentially an unbiased figure appointed by the state whose role is to investigate crimes impartially.)
Read more: Two journalists freed on bail after arrest for exposing collusion in North massacre
Their arrest shocked the journalism world but a strange story has now become even weirder.
As the Irish Times revealed, the entire case against them—that they stole documents from the Ombudsman's office—has now been totally undermined by a statement from the Ombudsman Dr. Michael Maguire that no such documents are missing.
The office of Dr. Maguire the Ombudsman stated to The Irish Times: “We did not make a complaint of theft.
“The format of the document shown in the documentary is different to any similar document that we would have.”
The “No Stone Unturned” documentary drew heavily on the actual Ombudsman’s report in June 2016 which the Irish Times paraphrased as highlighting “catastrophic failings” and alleging that collusion between the RUC and the Ulster Volunteer Force had been a significant feature.
No evidence was ever produced by police linking my client @Barry_TheDetail with a theft, or any offence. They couldn’t even state definitively there was a theft. Now it appears there was no complaint made.https://t.co/MhwBTxStAH— John Finucane (@johnfinucane) November 8, 2018
The investigation, said Maguire, had been characterized by “incompetence, indifference and neglect.”
“No Stone Unturned” closely repeated those conclusions in the documentary and fleshed them out. Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney, perhaps the finest documentary maker of these times, and Birney and McCaffrey did a magnificent analysis for the case of blatant collusion.
How Birney and McCaffrey came to be arrested is startling.
As the Irish Times reports: “At The PSNI Serious Crimes Unit, the journalists were told that ‘on October 4th, 2017, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland reported the theft of two ‘secret’ documents from their offices.’
“The arrests, they were told, were in connection with suspicion of theft, the handling of stolen goods, the unlawful disclosure of information and the unlawful obtainment of personal data.”
The Irish Times added, “Following renewed claims by the PSNI that the force had indeed been alerted by the ombudsman's office to the theft of classified documents the Ombudsman again strongly denied they had made any claim of stolen documents.”
Read more: Documentary sheds light on the 1994 World Cup Loughinisland Massacre
A new statement from ombudsman Dr. Michael Maguire’s office on Friday morning said: “We stand very much behind the statement we issued to The Irish Times [on Thursday] – we did not report a theft.”
Who do you believe? The Ombudsman, of course, and the entire exercise was an attempt to intimidate and harass the journalist concerned.
McCaffrey and Birney were certainly targeted for intimidation.
After Barry McCaffrey was arrested on August 31, he stated he was escorted from his house on a quiet Belfast street by armed police in boiler suits.
A really important question asked by Susan McKay :— Fintan O'Toole (@fotoole) November 8, 2018
Why were two journalists investigating Loughinisland arrested? https://t.co/UkY02WOWxM via @IrishTimes
“The whole street was swarming with police,” said McCaffrey. “Some of them had taken up position among the trees across the road.
“As I was being driven away I saw one of my neighbors, an older lady, out walking her dog. Our eyes met and I could see a look of shock and horror on her face. She doesn’t know what I’ve done.
“Nor do the parents getting their kids ready for school. All they know is there are armed police all over the place and it is all down to me. It must have looked like I was a drug dealer or a mass murderer or something,” he added.
Trevor Birney, the producer of “No Stone Unturned,” and an outstanding investigative journalist was at home with his wife, Sheila, and their three daughters, along with relatives visiting from England. It was his eight-year-old daughter Freya’s first day back at school. Thirty armed police officers surrounded the house.
“For all the ugly aggression of the operation, the search itself was farcical,” said Sheila, who watched officers bag up items including a small, pink, broken mobile telephone.
As for exposing the killer gang, Birney and McCaffrey insist they and director Gibney behaved responsibly in deciding to name the murderers.
“We discussed doing so with senior people at the ombudsman’s office in autumn 2016, knowing it was their responsibility to pass this on to the police,” said Birney.
Read more: Daughter of Loughinisland massacre victim slams police as secrets emerge in new movie
Emma was eight-years-old when her father was murdered. In all of this, that fact has somehow been lost. None of what’s happened to myself and @Barry_TheDetail is at all significant compared to what police are doing to her and the Loughinisland families. https://t.co/3FeRFwWTtW— Trevor Birney (@trevorbirney) November 8, 2018
“I met Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin in early 2017 and he told me [then] deputy chief constable Drew Harris had been briefed soon after the 2016 meeting,” he added. (Harris is now the Irish Garda Commissioner.)
“We took comfort from that. As journalists we cannot assess risk – the only party that can do that is the PSNI. They could have warned the suspects and they could have injuncted us.”
Their lawyer Niall Murphy, who has been a driving force behind exposing the truth at Loughinisland, says the men should be released immediately and their arrests considered illegal.
Irish Americans should be calling for the full release of the two journalists who merely did a very tough job incredibly well. They have no case to answer and should have all charges dropped.
But this is Northern Ireland where the past is never past and where the informers and murderers are still being covered up for after decades.
Surely now, however, is the time to break with that past. The PSNI stands indicted for its recent blatant threats and falsehoods. Secrets and lies and false arrests and intimidation should be in the past, Alas, they are also occurring in the present.
Have you seen the documentary? Tell us your thoughts on it in the comments section, below.