No Stone Unturned
© No Stone Unturned
13 December 2018
The NUJ ethic code’s first obligation is "a journalist at all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed".
NUJ members, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, upheld this principle and were arrested as a consequence.
Susan McKay for the Irish Times has reported:
After Barry McCaffrey was arrested on August 31st, he was escorted from his house on a quiet Belfast street by armed police in boiler suits. "The whole street was swarming with police," says McCaffrey. "Some of them had taken up position among the trees across the road.
"As I was being driven away I saw one of my neighbours, an older lady, out walking her dog. Our eyes met and I could see a look of shock and horror on her face. She doesn’t know what I’ve done.
"Nor do the parents getting their kids ready for school. All they know is there are armed police all over the place and it is all down to me. It must have looked like I was a drug dealer or a mass murderer or something," he says.
The police arrived at 7am. They produced a search warrant, and McCaffrey let them in. He washed and dressed under the eyes of an officer. Asked for computer and phone passwords, he supplied them. He even offered tea. "I’m a law-abiding citizen," he said.
McCaffrey is an award-winning Belfast investigative journalist, the reporter behind Alex Gibney’s 2017 documentary about the 1994 Loughinisland pub massacre, No Stone Unturned.
That morning Trevor Birney, the producer of No Stone Unturned, was at home with his wife, Sheila, and their three daughters, along with relatives visiting from England. It was his eight-year-old daughter Freya’s first day back at school.
When a knock came to the family’s door, Sheila looked out and saw what appeared to be about 30 armed police officers, uniformed and in plain clothes, alighting from vehicles. The house quickly filled up with police. His eight-year-old became frightened and began to sob. Birney, who had, like McCaffrey, to shower and dress in front of an officer, told his wife he was being arrested, and was taken away.
"For all the ugly aggression of the operation, the search itself was farcical," says Sheila, who watched officers bag up items including a small, pink, broken mobile telephone.
Later, at the PSNI’s Serious Crimes Unit, the journalists were told that "on October 4th, 2017, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland reported the theft of two ‘secret’ documents from their offices".
The arrests, they were told, were in connection with suspicion of theft, the handling of stolen goods, the unlawful disclosure of information and the unlawful obtainment of personal data.
Although the investigation was led by Durham Constabulary, the officers involved in the searches were PSNI, who "threatened to break down" doors in offices shared by Birney’s company, Fine Point Films. "I said, 'Why don’t you just ring the bell?'" Birney says now. Speaking to reporters after they were released, McCaffrey had said simply: "It’s us today, tomorrow it could be you."
Ten years of research went into the documentary film, No Stone Unturned, which tells the story of a brutal massacre in a country pub when masked men gunned down football fans, leaving six dead and five injured.
It also reveals a litany of corruption involving police, paramilitary gangs and the army - before, during and after the killings.
The journalists have now been on pre-charge bail for months and they will report back to the PSNI in September 2019 (by which time they will have been on bail for more than a year).
When the journalists reported to the police in March 2019, the authorities attempted to amend the existing bail conditions to prevent the journalists from talking publicly about the ongoing police investigation and witnesses. The attempt was successfully opposed by the journalists' lawyers and the NUJ condemned this extraordinary attempt to restrict the journalists’ freedom of speech. During their time on bail, if either journalist wants to leave Northern Ireland (e.g. to work or to visit family) they must give three days advanced notice to the police.
The ongoing criminal investigation includes the following legal threats:
- Suspected theft of documents
- Handling of stolen goods
- Section 5 Official Secrets Act 1989
- Data protection breaches
On 5 September 2018 the journalists' lawyers raised questions about the independence of the police investigation and expressed concern about the PSNI’s role in what was portrayed as a Durham Police operation.
On 7 September 2018 the journalists’ legal representatives challenged the legality of search warrants at the High Court in Belfast. According to the Belfast Telegraph, Barry Macdonald QC said that police officers who searched the Belfast office on 31 August had retained material that was not within the scope of their investigation .
“Police seized a vast quantity of journalistic material that has absolutely nothing to do with the investigation," Macdonald said, according to the Irish News. "This application gives rise to serious issues concerning freedom of the press and abuse of police powers which have been used to intimidate journalists and prohibit not only journalists but whistleblowers," the lawyer added. Macdonald suggested that a “mutually acceptable” independent lawyer or retired judge could be appointed to examine material held by police and filter out those items not covered by the search warrant and which were now being held unnecessarily.
On 4 February 2019 Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey won permission to challenge the legality of the search warrants. Lawyers representing the journalists contend the warrants did not cover all of the material seized, reported the Irish News . In the High Court in Belfast they were granted leave to seek a judicial review on all grounds of challenge - including a claim that relying on the Official Secrets Act to obtain the warrants was incompatible with their freedom of expression rights under European law. On 20 March 2019 the journalists’ lawyers challenged the search warrants again and argued there was no evidence in the public interest for the redactions made to the search warrant applications.
The case continues and the judicial review is scheduled for May 2019.
How you can help:
- Organise a screening of the film in your local area
- Ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion -
IMPORTANCE OF JOURNALISM IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
That this House celebrates the importance of investigative journalism in the public interest; believes that a free press is critical to the health of democratic society and that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right; is concerned by the arrests of National Union of Journalists members Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney; commends their award-winning documentary No Stone Unturned about the Loughinisland massacre of 1994; notes that the journalists have not yet been charged with any offences; and while respecting due process asks the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Durham Constabulary to clarify the basis of their investigation into these two respected journalists and to address concerns about the way in which it has been conducted.
- Ask people to sign this NUJ petition -
The arrest of journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey on Friday 31 August by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland represents an attack on investigative journalism.
The documentary, No Stone Unturned, sheds light on the six unsolved murders in a violent attack on civilians in Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1994.
The film is an outstanding example of public interest journalism. The documentary raises serious questions about the police investigation into the attack.
We condemn the targeting of those who seek the truth and the attempt to criminalise media workers.
The foundation on which all confidential information is exchanged between a journalist and a source is mutual trust. The ability of journalists to act in the public interest is contingent on their ability to honour commitments made in good faith to a source of confidential information. This principle is enshrined in the NUJ’s ethical code of conduct.
The highest level of protection, under international law, must be afforded to journalists in respect of privacy in their communications and in respect to the right to protect confidential sources of information received and published in the public interest.
The NUJ has strongly condemned the arrest of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, in violation of their rights under the European Convention of Human Rights and was gravely concerned by the manner of their detention and the implication for investigative journalism in Northern Ireland.
We the undersigned demand the immediate lifting of the threat of legal action against Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.
We further demand that the police authorities and prosecutors give due recognition to the right of journalists to protect confidential sources of information, with particular reference to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
We support the campaign by the NUJ in defence of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, to whom we extend our support and solidarity.
If you want to add your name to this public statement and petition of support, then please sign the statement and return by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively you can sign the petition by post, send your name to NUJ, Spencer House, Spencer Row, Dublin 1, DO1 R9T8
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:
"Be under no illusion, the arrests of journalists and the seizure of their documents and computer equipment threatens press freedom in Northern Ireland. The arrest of two of the most widely respected journalists in Northern Ireland has sent a shiver of fear through media in the region.
"Journalists must be free to investigate and expose issues of public concern without fear of arrest. When the police are arresting journalists who have investigated police collusion in the killing of civilians, rather than the killers and their helpers, then we all should be deeply worried."
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said:
"Given the UK has set out media freedom as a key Foreign Office campaign next year, we expect the British government to show it can keep its own house in order when it comes to the rule of law and protection of the media. An independent media plays a critical role in exposing corruption and holding the powerful to account. The arrest of Trevor and Barry is the worst kind of example of a police force protecting their own, and punishing the messenger, rather than ensuring justice is served."
Dr Paul Lashmar, deputy head of the department of journalism at City University London, said:
"The arrest of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey is the most serious attack on press freedom in the UK at this time. All journalists need to be aware of this case and its importance. This is not some hangover from The Troubles, some peculiarity of Northern Ireland, this PSNI operation poses a threat to all UK journalists through its unprecedented ex-parte warrant. This is escalation, police state stuff with 100 officers raiding the homes and office of two working journalists - with a mind to prosecute journalists for 'stealing' a document. Journalists obtain documents in the public interest - that PSNI - is what we do and that is what has happened here. It's called the Fourth Estate - democracy does not function without it. Meanwhile the murderers of six innocent men are free and unpunished. That's not in the public interest. Period."
Media coverage -
Investigating the Loughinisland murders - Guardian podcast
Al Jazeera Listening Post - Documenting the Troubles: Journalism and justice in Northern Ireland
Alex Gibney, wrote about the campaign for the New York Review of Books - How the Truth of ‘The Troubles’ Is Still Suppressed
Barry McCaffrey’s account of the arrests for the Morning Star
Roy Greenslade, the Guardian's columnist says the film investigating Loughinisland massacre deserves a wider audience
Miriam Lord says journalists can breathe easy with Boris on the case, in the Irish Times
Freelance journalist and NUJ NEC member Tim Dawson explains the importance of the campaign for Left Foot Forward