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New Yorker covers arrest of Belfast journalists

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, who were arrested in August in relation to the documentary No Stone Unturned. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE prestigious New Yorker magazine has said it is a "perilous times for journalism" around the world in an article covering the arrests of Belfast-based journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney.

The October edition of the magazine, which sells more than 1.2 million copies every month, covers the arrests in August by members of the Durham Constabulary, assisted by the PSNI, over alleged theft of documents from the Police Ombudsman's office.

Journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, interviewed both men about their arrest in relation to documents featured in the acclaimed documentary 'No Stone Unturned' about the UVF murder of six Catholics in Loughinisland in June 1994.

On the morning of their arrest on August 31 the homes of both men were searched by police as well as Mr Birney's production company offices in Belfast.

Computers and documents containing journalistic material were seized and remain sealed in police possession, pending the outcome of a a judicial review over the legality of the search.

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It has been adjourned to take further instructions on the proposal for an independent assessment of everything seized by police.

The film's award-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney has also been informed he is a suspect and that police may wish to speak to him if he enters the UK.

The New Yorker journalist notes: "It is not clear why the arrests took place nearly a year after the release of 'No Stone Unturned,' but Birney suggested to me that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is seeking to strong-arm the filmmakers into giving up a source - although McCaffrey says that he has no idea who sent him the document."

Mr Birney told the magazine; "There may be another element pushing this."

There are allegation that the security services may have carried out the arrests, to deter further investigations into collusion in other atrocities during the Troubles.

Both men were released without charge and are to return for further questioning in November.

In a hard hitting editorial the magazine notes: "It has become commonplace to observe that these are perilous times for journalism, and for journalists. President Trump has set the tone, calling members of the press “the enemy of the people.”

It refers to the shooting dead of five people in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis in Maryland and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"The United Kingdom prides itself on being a liberal democracy, but, to Alex Gibney, the reaction to 'No Stone Unturned' feels dismayingly in keeping with our times: when confronted with a film that identified prime suspects in a massacre of unarmed British citizens, the authorities made no apparent effort to further question those suspects—and arrested the filmmakers instead."

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