Northern Ireland news

Loughinisland arrests: Police focus is on finding journalist's sources rather than solving murders, says NUJ

Scene of the Loughinisland massacre where six men were shot dead in the UVF gun attack on the Heights Bar on 18th June 1994
Digital Staff

THE Loughinisland families will hold a protest at the Heights Bar tonight following the arrest of two journalists in connection with the suspected theft of confidential documents relating to the Loughinisland massacre.

Investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested this morning after two houses and a business were searched by police. They were involved in documentary No Stone Unturned about the loyalist murder of six men in the Heights Bar in the Co Down village in1994.

Their arrests were confirmed by Alex Gibney, the producer of No Stone Unturned, while solicitors representing both Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey have also confirmed their detention to the Press Association. 

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed “grave concern” at the arrests and said it was "profoundly depressing" that "priority appears to be given to tracking down the source of journalistic stories rather than solving murders in Northern Ireland”.

Seamus Dooley, Acting General Secretary NUJ UK and Ireland, said it was "deeply worrying" that police attention was focused on journalists "rather than on the issues raised in the documentary".

"The protection of journalistic sources of confidential information is of vital importance and journalists must be free to operate in the public interest without police interference.  These journalists are entitled to claim journalistic privilege and to seek the protection of the legal system  if there is any attempt to force them to reveal sources.

"We note the confiscation of computers and data held by Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Every step must be taken to ensure that data held on computers is not compromised and that the confidentiality of the sources are not put in jeopardy.

"Journalists throughout the UK and Ireland will support Trevor and Barry in any stand they take to lawfully protect their confidential sources.  It is profoundly depressing to note that, yet again, priority appears to be given to tracking down the source of journalistic stories rather than solving murders in Northern Ireland.”

The material, which police say featured in the documentary, had been in the possession of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).

A police spokesman has claimed the theft of the documents "potentially puts lives at risk".

PONI officers reported the theft to the PSNI.

The PSNI then asked Durham Police to conduct an independent investigation into the theft.

The men, aged 51 and 48, were arrested by officers from the Durham force.

The arrests took place this morning after detectives, supported by PSNI officers, searched three properties in the Belfast area.

These included two residential properties and a business premises.

A number of documents and computer equipment seized during the raids will be examined by specialist officers.

Read more: Journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney have both won justice awards in distinguished careers

The six men killed in Loughinisland were, from top left, Adrian Rogan, Barney Green and Dan McCreanor and (from bottom left) Eamon Byrne, Malcolm Jenkinson and Patsy O'are

The men are being questioned at Musgrave Police Station in Belfast.

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary described the investigation as "complex".

"This morning's arrests are a significant development in what has been a complex investigation," he said.

"The terms of reference given to our inquiry were clear in that the investigation is solely into the alleged theft of material from PONI.

"The theft of these documents potentially puts lives at risk and we will follow the evidence wherever it leads us."

Six people were killed on June 18 1994 when loyalist gunmen burst into a bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, and opened fire on customers.

The UVF terrorists struck as football fans watched the Republic of Ireland team play in the 1994 Fifa World Cup.

In 2011, the Police Ombudsman found there had been major failings in the police investigation following the shootings, but said there was no evidence that police had colluded with the UVF.

However in 2016, a new Ombudsman report found there had been collusion, and the police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect informers.

In 2017, a documentary, No Stone Unturned, named the main suspects.

Spokeswoman for the Loughinisland families, Clare Rogan, expressed anger at the arrests.

"We are shocked and appalled at the arrest of two journalists related to the 'No Stone Unturned' documentary, which exposed the extent of state collusion between the state and loyalist paramilitaries in Loughinisland,' she said.

"The British government have systematically denied and continue to cover up its role in the murder of six people in the Heights Bar.

"Today's arrests show the lengths of desperation that the British government and state forces are prepared to go to, in order to stifle the truth about what happened in Loughinisland.

"The Police Ombudsman's report into Loughinisland murders was one of the most damning expositions of state collusion in mass murder ever published.

"Our families and many other families across the island, some of whom have been denied the basic right to an inquest, have campaigned for many years against state collusion and for truth and justice for our loved ones.

"These actions are the latest attempt to deter the work of families and journalists who seek to shine the light on the dark levels of collusion at the heart of the British state."

The families are planning to hold a vigil outside the Heights Bar in Loughinisland at 7pm tonight in protest at the arrests.

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