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Arrest journalists over Loughinisland massacre documentary branded `PSNI-inspired police investigation'

Journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney at Musgrave Police Station. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE absence of "a single Durham police officer" in Belfast yesterday reveals that the arrest of two journalists who produced a documentary on the Loughinisland massacre "is a PSNI-inspired investigation".

Award-winning reporters Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey reported to Musgrave Street station for questioning, where "a PSNI custody sergeant" - rather than a representative of arresting police force Durham Constabulary - dealt with a formal application for the case to be stopped on the grounds that "there is no evidence (or) criminal complaint".

Bail was extended until March for the pair who were arrested in August over the alleged theft of confidential material from the offices of Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire.

Their `No Stone Unturned' documentary on the notorious 1994 murders, when six men were killed by UVF gunmen inside a Co Down bar where they had gathered to watch the World Cup, broke new ground by publicly naming those it said were suspects.

No one has ever been convicted for the killings.

Mr Birney said the days events were "quite clearly (a) punitive attempt to restrict both myself and Barry and the work that we're trying to do".

"Ultimately this is all about the Loughinisland families, this really isn't about us and I think this farce today has just added to their grief and added to their concern that they're corks in the ocean being bobbed about by forces here and in Durham."

Solicitor Niall Murphy branded it "a malicious farce conditioned by a paranoid hysteria in the senior ranks of the police" and said an attempt had been made to increase bail conditions before they were reduced following legal representations.

"Not one Durham police officer dignified the custody suite with his presence today," he said.

"... I think it's remarkable, I think it belies the real situation here - that this is a PSNI-inspired police investigation."

Mr Murphy said the PSNI approach has been "conditioned by an attempt to protect their own intelligence agenda".

NUJ Assistant General Secretary Séamus Dooley branded the latest police action "a travesty of justice" and described the decision to renew bail as "a game changer".

Around 60 journalists gathered to show solidarity had cheered the pair and their legal team as they arrived at the police station.

"We had naively hoped that the PSNI would lift the threat of prosecution against Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey," Mr Dooley said.

" The police ombudsman has stated that no complaint has been made to his office of a theft of confidential documentation, thus removing the central plank of this vindictive investigation.

"The decision to extend bail until 1st March is a continued threat to the liberty of two investigative journalists."

Police continue to hold materials seized when the journalists were arrested at their homes in August and the Belfast offices of production company Fine Point Films searched by Durham police, assisted by large number of PSNI officers.

They were questioned for 14 hours on how material held by the ombudsman ended up in the reporters' documentary on the notorious 1994 murders.

Oscar winning film maker Alex Gibney who directed No Stone Unturned has called the arrests "an act of intimidation".

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