Northern Ireland news

Wrongful arrest of journalists could cost PSNI £3m

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey outside the HIgh Court in Belfast last week. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Connla Young

THE final bill for the unlawful arrests of two investigative journalists involved in making a Troubles documentary could cost the PSNI more than £3 million.

It emerged last week that the PSNI has agreed to pay £875,000 in damages to Barry McCaffrey, Trevor Birney and the company behind the film on the Loughinisland massacre after both men were arrested at their homes in 2018.

The PSNI will also have to foot both sides’ legal costs for the lengthy and complex judicial review proceedings that ran for more than two years.

Legal sources say that the total cost of the case, including damages, to the PSNI could top more than £3m.

Details of the scale of the huge PSNI operation directed against the journalists have also emerged.

It is estimated that more than 100 police officers were involved in the arrest, detention and interviews in August 2018.

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

Four car loads of police attended each of the three sites to execute the search and arrest warrants.

The PSNI drafted in Durham Police to help in the investigation, which assigned a senior team of ‘gold command’ detectives.

The raids were carried out as part of an investigation into the suspected theft of documents from the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

The case was linked to the making of a film into the UVF murder of six innocent Catholic men at Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.

The acclaimed documentary No Stone Unturned looked at how police investigated the massacre and revealed the identity of loyalist suspects.

The overall cost is said to include the involvement of Durham Police and an application for search warrants was made to a judge with the PSNI represented by counsel.

It is suggested that the investigation itself was also advised by counsel.

Two independent barristers were used to assess the ‘legal professional privilege’ arising from the searches while a computer technical support team was used to drain the server at Fine Point Films.

Sources say the final bill will also include personnel at Musgrave Police Station used to supervise the detention of both journalists.

An emergency injunction launched on the day of the arrests is believed to have resulted in significant cost.

It is claimed that during these proceedings interested parties, including the journalists and police were represented by four sets of solicitors, four QCs and four junior barristers.

The judge in the case was also represented by a junior barrister and the Departmental Solicitors Office.

In addition, the Northern Ireland Office was also an interested party and submitted an application Public Interest Immunity certificate.

Earlier this year PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne apologised to both men.

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: “The cost of all legal fees is still to be determined.”

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