Northern Ireland news

Belfast journalists cited in fears over UK Official Secrets Act proposals that could see reporters 'treated like spies'

Belfast-based journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney.

The treatment of two Belfast journalists has been cited as an example of how the UK Official Secrets Act can be used to stifle reporting in the public interest, amid plans to reform the legislation.

The UK Home Office has put forward plans that suggests journalists could be treated the same as those committing espionage offences by releasing private information.

The British government claim the reform is required to tackle the "discernible and very real threat posed by state threats", but the National Union of Journalists has warned that more members of the press could face similar treatment to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, the Belfast journalists arrested over the alleged theft of a police ombudsman document.

The document appeared in their film, No Stone Unturned, focussing on the Loughlinisland massacre in 1994 in which loyalist gunmen murdered six people in a local pub.

The Court of Appeal quashed a search warrant used to raid their homes and offices in 2018, and the pair received an apology from the PSNI Chief Constable after the investigation into them was dropped,

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said their case was a "clear demonstration of how tempting it can be for police to use Official Secrets provisions on the flimsiest of grounds”.

She added: "We remain fundamentally opposed to any moves by the state that would make it harder to report on national security or poses harsher penalties for journalists, their sources and whistleblowers."

Home Office consultation on the proposed changes will close on July 22.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news