Arrests could have a 'chilling' effect on investigative journalism

Trevor Birney, left, and Barry McCaffrey were arrested as part of an investigation into the suspected theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

THE arrest of two journalists in connection with alleged use of leaked documents during the making of a hard-hitting documentary into the Loughinisland massacre, could have a "chilling effect on legitimate investigative reporting", it has been warned.

Award-winning reporters Trevor Birney (51) and Barry McCaffrey (48) were detained over the suspected theft of confidential documents relating to the Loughinisland killings of 1994.

Six men were murdered when loyalists opened fire on a crowd of football fans gathered around a TV in a village pub watching the Republic of Ireland play in the World Cup.

Last year's No Stone Unturned film examined the persistent claims of state collusion in the murders and broke new ground by publicly naming what it said were suspects.

The reporters were both arrested from addresses in Belfast yesterday with documents and computer equipment also seized.

Condemning the arrests spokesperson for the Loughinisland families, Clare Rogan, whose husband Adrian Rogan (34) was one of the six men shot dead in the Height's Bar attack said they were "shocked and appalled" at the arrests.

"The British government have systematically denied and continue to cover up its role in the murder of six people in the Heights Bar", said Mrs Rogan.

She added that in her view the arrests showed "the lengths of desperation that the British government and state forces are prepared to go to, in order to stifle the truth about what happened in Loughinisland".

"The Police Ombudsman's report into Loughinisland murders was one of the most damning expositions of state collusion in mass murder ever published.

"Our families and many other families across the island, some of whom have been denied the basic right to an inquest, have campaigned for many years against state collusion and for truth and justice for our loved ones", she added.

General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Seamus Dooley, said the arrests were "profoundly depressing" and "deeply worrying".

"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."

He added that journalists across Ireland and the UK would stand by their colleagues.

"It is 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," he said.

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Brian Gormally, Director of Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) said the arrest of journalists "is always a concern, particularly when it relates to those who uncover evidence of human rights violations, who are entitled to protect their sources.

"It is now up to the police to demonstrate that this interference was reasonable, proportionate, for a legitimate aim and necessary in a democratic society."

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International also said the arrests were of deep concern.

“These arrests will send a worrying message to other journalists in Northern Ireland and could have a chilling effect on legitimate investigative reporting", he said.

The attack unfolded on June 18 1994 when loyalist gunmen burst into the Heights Bar and opened fire on customers.

In 2011, the Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson found there had been major failings in the police investigation but said there was no evidence that officers had colluded with the UVF.

However in 2016, a new Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire found there had been collusion, and the police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect informers.

In 2017, a judge delivered a damning judgment against Dr Maguire's report, ruling that he had exceeded his statutory powers by declaring officers guilty of colluding in the UVF attack.

Another judge is now presiding over a case that will focus on whether Dr Maguire's findings should be formally quashed.

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