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Arrest of Loughinisland journalists profoundly disturbing

The arrest of two award winning journalists who carried out a major investigation into the Loughinisland massacre is a disturbing development that has caused deep concern, particularly among families campaigning for the truth.

Former Irish News journalist Barry McCaffrey and independent film maker Trevor Birney both worked on a documentary about the UVF murders of six men at The Heights Bar, Loughinisland in 1994.

The programme, No Stone Unturned, which was produced by Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney and released last year, examined claims of collusion in the killings, raised questions about the police investigation and named those suspected of involvement in the atrocity.

It was an important and hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism, aiming to uncover the full truth about a dark and murky episode.

Mr McCaffrey and Mr Birney were detained yesterday by officers from Durham Police, who had been asked by the PSNI to conduct an investigation into the theft of confidential documents relating to the Loughinisland killings.

Police said the material, which featured in the documentary, had been in the possession of the Police Ombudsman.

Relatives of the Loughinisland families said they were 'shocked and appalled' by the arrests while the National Union of Journalists expressed 'grave concern' at the development, saying that the protection of journalistic sources of confidential information is of vital importance.

Certainly, the way in which these arrests have been conducted along with the searching of homes, is profoundly alarming.

There will be justifiable fears that this aggressive approach will have a chilling effect on investigative journalism which plays a crucial role in holding the powerful to account.

It has also been noted that the authorities seem more interested in finding journalistic sources than in tracking down those responsible for these terrible crimes.

Six innocent men died in Loughinisland. Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney delved into the circumstances of their murders and asked legitimate questions about those responsible as well as the RUC investigation.

Their work is undoubtedly in the public interest. Their arrests most definitely are not.

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