Northern Ireland news

No Stone Unturned journalists may press police to delete all copied files

No Stone Unturned journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey

Two Belfast journalists whose homes were raided by police may press for a court order stating that millions of documents seized and copied must be completely deleted.

Even though all confiscated material was returned to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey after the search warrants were quashed, information remains on police systems.

High Court judges confirmed today they will examine potential solutions at a hearing next month, with one option being the total erasure of all records.

Computer equipment, files, phones, cameras and notebooks were all seized in raids linked to the documentary film No Stone Unturned, which examined the 1994 Loughinisland atrocity.

Mr Birney stressed the need to ensure no copies are kept.

"Less than three percent of what police downloaded from our system on August 31 2018 pertained to No Stone Unturned," he said outside court.

"That in itself was a violation of our journalistic integrity, but there was a vast amount of other material on our server which relates to the Middle East, South America and clerical sex abuse here in Northern Ireland.

"The police still retain copies of that material, and that's why it's vital to get a resolution to this as soon as possible."

A reenactment of the 1994 attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, in which the UVF murdered six men, from the documentary No Stone Unturned

Earlier this year, the journalists won their challenge to the legality of warrants granted as part of an investigation into the suspected theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office.

They had been detained, questioned and released in August 2018 during an operation undertaken by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by PSNI officers.

Raids were also carried out at their homes and offices.

The case is connected to No Stone Unturned - a documentary into the police's handling of the loyalist murders of six Catholic men at Loughinisland, Co Down in June 1994.

Judicial review proceedings were successfully brought to have the warrants declared unlawful.

Judges ruled that authorisation for the searches which led to the arrest of Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had been inappropriate.

They also held that Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had acted properly to protect their sources, in line with the National Union of Journalists' (NUJ) code.

Days later police confirmed they had dropped their investigation into the pair.

Despite the journalists subsequently reclaiming their possessions, a final remedy is to be reached on any copied material still stored by police.

In court today barrister Peter Girvan, for Mr McCaffrey, said one solution could be to seek an order for the deletion of all records.

But he cited "systems integrity" as posing a potential problem.

Listing the case for hearing in November, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan advised: "That date is fixed, it will not be moved."

Later, Mr Birney's solicitor, Niall Murphy, disclosed: "The IT experts have met to discuss remedies which would be to the satisfaction of Trevor and Barry, one of which is the deletion of all material downloaded following the seizure on August 31, 2018."

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