Northern Ireland news

George Hamilton responds to criticism over Loughinisland journalists' arrest

PSNI chief constable George Hamilton
Brendan Hughes

THE PSNI chief constable has responded to criticism over the arrest of two journalists in an investigation into the suspected theft of documents linked to the Loughinisland massacre.

George Hamilton said he asked Durham Constabulary to conduct the police investigation into the alleged theft "to address any perceived conflict of interest".

He was responding on Twitter following the arrest on Friday of investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey (48) and Trevor Birney (51).

The pair produced the film documentary No Stone Unturned about the UVF murder of six men at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.

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

The police probe centres on the suspected theft of confidential material which officers say was used in the film.

The reporters were arrested in Belfast on Friday and had documents and computer equipment seized before being released that night.

Investigative journalists Trevor Birney (left) and Barry McCaffrey (right) leaving Musgrave Street police station in Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

Mr McCaffrey branded it "an attack on the press", adding: "Everybody should realise. It's us today. Tomorrow it could be you."

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Families and supporters of those killed in the 1994 attack staged a vigil on Friday evening in solidarity with the journalists.

Emma Rogan, whose father was murdered in the shootings, said the "whole community were shocked to hear [the journalists] were arrested while the perpetrators of this heinous act have never been charged".

Responding to criticism over the arrests, Mr Hamilton on Saturday tweeted: "These arrests were carried out by Durham Constabulary.

"I invited Durham Police to investigate the alleged theft of documents as reported to PSNI by the Police Ombudsman.

"I invited an external service to conduct the investigation to address any perceived conflict of interest."

Loughinisland families outside Heights Bar on Friday in protest over the arrest of two journalists. Picture by Bill Smyth

On Friday, Mr McCaffrey's lawyer John Finucane said he was "deeply disturbed" by the men's detention, while Mr Birney's solicitor Niall Murphy said he had gone through four taped interviews but "not one scintilla of evidence" was put to him.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Kate Hoey became embroiled in a Twitter row at the weekend over remarks in reaction to the arrests.

The Twitter account for Mr Murphy's Belfast-based law firm, KRW Law, criticised the London MP's remarks and asked her to delete them.

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