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No Stone Unturned - defend press freedom - write to your MP

8 March 2019

The NUJ Brighton and Sussex branch is writing to all MPs in its area urging them to support the NUJ campaign on behalf of Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney and sign Early Day Motion No 2091 – Importance of Journalism in the Public Interest.

Branch secretary Brian Williams says:

"We have been hugely encouraged by the initial response. Within 24 hours of sending the first email we'd had two positive replies. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, wrote back to say he would sign the EDM and Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, promised to raise the NUJ's concerns with the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.
"We hope other branches will to do something similar. The more MPs who know that two highly respected journalists are getting such heavy-handed treatment from the authorities, the better."

If you want to support the NUJ campaign on their behalf, please feel free to use our letter as a template, amending as you see fit. One tweak you might want to make is if the MP you’re writing to is a cabinet minister or parliamentary private secretary. Protocol prevents them signing EDMs. What we've done in their case is change the second and third paras to read:

Our branch of the NUJ is deeply concerned by the police investigation of journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, who are members of our union. As a result, we would urge you to support the campaign that highlights their case.

Part of that campaign is Early Day Motion No 2091 - Importance of Journalism in the Public Interest. I understand that, as a PPS/cabinet minister (delete accordingly), parliamentary protocol prevents you signing EDMs. Perhaps, instead, you could raise our concerns with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

To find the email addresses and other contact details of MPs, you can use parliament's website listing all MPs or the They Work For You website.

Download the template letter to MPs as a word document. Or copy paste the text below -

Dear xxx
 
I am writing to you behalf of members of the National Union of Journalists who live and work in your constituency.
 
Our branch of the NUJ, Brighton and Sussex, is deeply concerned by the ongoing police investigation of journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, who are members of our union.
 
We would urge you to sign Early Day Motion No 2091 - Importance of Journalism in the Public Interest, and support the NUJ campaign for press freedom.
 
McCaffrey and Birney were arrested in August last year in connection with their award-winning documentary film, No Stone Unturned, which focuses on the unsolved murders of six innocent people in the village of Loughinisland, 20 miles south of Belfast.

Six months on, McCaffrey and Birney have still not been charged with any crime. Instead, their bail has been extended to September 2019 and police have tried to limit their freedom of speech as a condition of that bail.
 
The Loughinisland massacre is a gruesome story. The victims were in a pub watching a World Cup football match between the Republic of Ireland and Italy in 1994 when two armed men burst in and gunned them down. The killers and their driver were widely believed to have been members of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force who lived locally. However, no one has ever been prosecuted for the murders.
 
The documentary was launched in September 2017 and it names the three men most likely to be responsible for the massacre, the journalists were arrested in a dawn raid on their homes in August 2018 by 100 armed officers who took them into custody, questioned them for 14 hours and confiscated their computers and mobile phones.

The arrests are said to be in connection with the alleged theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland related to the killings and containing evidence of collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the gunmen. McCaffrey and Birney maintain the documents were leaked.
 
During the film’s editing process, the journalists offered the named suspects a right of reply, which was sent by registered mail. Their letters went unanswered. They also informed the Police Ombudsman’s office of the likely suspects the film would name. The Ombudsman’s office then passed that information on to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. They wanted to be sure the PSNI was informed in case there was any concern for the safety of the suspects or in case the police had any other compelling reason why the film should not be released. They received no response.
 
Although PSNI officers carried out the arrests in August 2018, the PSNI is not officially in charge of the investigation. In cases of political sensitivity, the PSNI calls in an external police force and in this case it is Durham Constabulary.
 
The NUJ does not advocate breaking the law. However, we believe our members are entitled to use legitimate journalistic means to tell this compelling story and help bring killers to justice. It is part of our democratic process.

The film is an outstanding piece of journalism in the public interest and we believe McCaffrey and Birney are being punished because they have exposed brutal human rights abuses in Northern Ireland.
 
That’s why the NUJ believes EDM No 2091 is so important.We are delighted that it has already attracted cross-party support.

Journalists in your constituency would be greatly reassured if they knew it had your backing as well. We urge you to sign the EDM and to support our campaign for journalism in the public interest.
 
Other things you may want to consider to add your support to this vitally important campaign –

  • Watch the film, available to rent on Amazon Prime or Itunes
  • Write to the PSNI and Durham Constabulary to express concerns about the case
  • Contact Prime Minister Theresa May, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley and Policing Minister Nick Hurd to ask about the case.

If you require any further information about this campaign or any other NUJ issues please let me know.
 
I look forward to hearing from you.

Find out more about the campaign on the dedicated campaigns webpage

Tags: , no stone unturned, ethics, parliament uk, northern ireland, investigative journalism, public interest