TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has been urged to raise the issues surrounding the arrest of two journalists in Northern Ireland with the British government.
In September, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, two journalists involved in a documentary about the murders of six men in a Loughinisland bar in 1994 were arrested but released on bail over the alleged theft of confidential documents relating to the Loughinisland massacre.
Detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), executed search warrants at three properties in the Belfast area.
The day six men in a Loughinisland bar were murdered, members of the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) entered the Heights Bar and started shooting as football fans watched the Republic of Ireland team play in the 1994 Fifa World Cup. Six men were killed and five others were injured.
The police inquiry centres on the suspected theft of sensitive material held by the office of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI) which was used in the No Stone Unturned documentary re-examining the 1994 murders.
The National Union of Journalists has also condemned the action by police. Seamus Dooley, acting general secretary of the union in the UK and Ireland said the documentary had “raised serious questions about the police investigation into Loughinisland”.
It’s reported today that the legality of arresting the two journalists is to be challenged in court after it emerged a crime was not reported to police.
Dooley has written to the Tánaiste today formally requesting that he raise this case Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley “as a matter of urgency”.
In the letter, he writes:
This is a matter of the utmost seriousness and today’s revelations cannot be ignored.
Drawing his attention to recent developments in the case, Dooley states that Barry and Trevor were released on bail on Friday 31 August and are due to return to Musgrave Street police station, Belfast, at the end of this month but have not been charged
with any offences.
Dooley states that following the men’s arrest Durham Constabulary said:
“Officials from Police Ombudsman of NI reported the theft to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) who in turn asked Durham Constabulary to conduct an independent investigation.”
However, he points out that journalist Susan McKay investigated the circumstances surrounding the arrests and in her report in today’s Irish Times she quotes a spokesman for Dr Michael Morgan as saying: “We did not make a complaint of theft”.
“The unequivocal statement from Dr Michael Maguire’s office that they did not make a
complaint of theft undermines the actions of Durham police and the PSNI,” states Dooley, and calls for the threat of prosecution to be lifted, and a full explanation given to Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney.
The letter adds:
The context of this statement is important: two journalists were arrested, and the offices of a film production company raided on the basis of a warrant which the NUJ believes was granted in entirely unacceptable circumstances.
Two of our members were humiliated by very public arrests amid a blaze of publicity, even though they were at all times available for questioning. The PSNI could simply have sought an appointment at a local police station…
If there was no complaint, why were these journalists arrested?
The NUJ Secretary adds:
The treatment of our members and the illegal arrests of foot of a non-existent complaint is a clearly breach of the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, which is predicated on respect for human rights.