Northern Ireland

Barry McCaffrey: Now give the Loughinisland families the truth and justice they deserve

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey with solicitor Niall Murphy outside the High Court in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey with solicitor Niall Murphy outside the High Court in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell.

INVESTIGATIVE journalist Barry McCaffrey has claimed "dark forces" within the PSNI tried to block support for him and colleague Trevor Birney after they were arrested.

Mr McCaffrey was speaking outside Belfast's High Court after it emerged the force is to pay the men and a production company £875,000 in damages.

Human rights groups and the National Union of Journalists supported the journalists after they were arrested at their Belfast homes in 2018.

As part of a campaign to raise awareness of their plight the pair met with a range of groups and politicians.

"We had to go around the world, we had to go to America and visit the whole of Britain and Ireland to highlight our case," Mr McCaffrey said.

"And every time we met with a political party, Irish government or other human rights groups we would be told the police were briefing against us.

"These dark forces were telling these organisations that if they supported us they would be left with egg on their face."

A former Irish News journalist, Mr McCaffrey said it was a "credit" to the organisations that stuck by him and Mr Birney.

He also commended politicians who backed them.

"They realised that this was not about Northern Ireland or the Troubles, it was about an attack on press freedom," he said.

"They realise we are there to protect the fourth estate and ask difficult questions."

He added: "I support proper policing. This was not proper policing.''

Mr McCaffrey added that despite the outcome of his case, the relatives of those killed at Louginisland "have not had justice".

He urged PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne to provide relatives of the six Catholic men murdered with the answers they need.

"If Simon Byrne wants the money back he can have the money back today," he said.

"Give the Loughinisland families the justice they want and I will gladly put it in an envelope for him.

"It's not about the money, give them the truth and justice they deserve."

His colleague Trevor Birney described the case against him and Mr McCaffrey as an attack on press freedom.

"We launched a judicial review in the face of the PSNI's most egregious attack on journalism to protect our journalism, our sources, and press freedom itself," he said.

"Over the past two years, the PSNI fought our attempts to protect our journalism and sources every step of the way.

"They sought to defend their indefensible attack on press freedom right up until the judgment delivered by the Lord Chief Justice in July this year."

While he welcomed an apology issued by Simon Byrne earlier this year, he said his predecessor George Hamilton has yet to address the matter.

He said journalists "now need to see Simon Byrne take all steps necessary to ensure accountability for the PSNI's despicable attack on press freedom and to assure the press that lessons have been learned".

His solicitor Niall Murphy of KRW Law said the level of damages paid is unprecedented.

"The judgment of the most senior court in our jurisdiction represents an international landmark decision for freedom of the press," he said.

"I cannot recall this level of damages ever having been paid by the police for unlawful arrest."

He added that the outcome will protect journalists going forward.

"As a result of this case the law is now clear: a line has been drawn and in the future there will never be another dawn raid on honest journalists who report the truth about state wrongdoing."

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland is pleased that these matters have now been concluded."