Northern Ireland

Concern over closed door court sessions during Tribunal hearing claims of police surveillance against Belfast journalists

Belfast journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey are attending hearings in London this week

Journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney
Journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney.

There has been a call to ensure tribunal hearings looking into claims the phones of two Belfast journalists were secretly monitored by UK authorities are not held behind closed doors.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) is holding hearings into the claims surrounding Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey on Wednesday and Thursday at London’s Royal Courts of Justice.

The journalists were falsely arrested in 2018 during an investigation by Durham Constabulary, supported by the PSNI, after a draft copy of a Police Ombudsman’s report into the 1994 Loughinisland UVF massacre was shown in their 2018 documentary No Stone Unturned.

It emerged the PSNI secretly accessed Mr McCaffrey’s phone records in 2013 following an inquiry to the force’s press office.

The respondents in the tribunal are the chief constables of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary, the Security Service, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and the UK home secretary and foreign secretary.

Mr McCaffrey, a former Irish News reporter, said this week’s hearings by the IPT, which investigates claims of unlawful covert action by UK authorities, “should be of concern to all journalists”.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said it understands that not all hearings this week will be held in open court, and warned that any sessions held behind closed doors “runs counter to the open justice principle and the need for transparency”.

NUJ assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley said: “This case is of fundamental importance and is of concern to journalists globally. The principle that justice should be administered in public is sacred and never more important than in these landmark hearings. The facts which will be revealed are of immense importance and we stand with our member Barry McCaffrey and with Trevor Birney at this time.”

A spokesperson for the Investigatory Powers Tribunal said the hearing will be heard in open at the court, but added: “In accordance with the rules governing the procedure of the Tribunal, there may be points during the hearing where the Tribunal has to sit in closed session.”