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No Stone Unturned ruling ‘a victory for NUJ members and for press freedom’

31 May 2019

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK and Ireland has welcomed the decision of three appeal judges at the High Court in Belfast today to quash warrants for the arrest of union members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey last August.

At the High Court today Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan agreed to adjourn the hearing until Monday afternoon to consider legal submissions by the PSNI and Durham Constabulary regarding the return of journalistic material. In opening the case today the Chief Justice was unambiguous in quashing the search warrants.

Earlier this week Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan said that the issue of warrants to the two journalists, arising from their work on a documentary about the Loughinisland massacre, No Stone Unturned, was inappropriate. In hearings this week the Lord chief justice stressed the right of journalists to abide by the NUJ code of conduct in seeking to protect confidential sources of information. On Wednesday the chief justice said the work of journalists was necessary in holding the state to account, “particularly in a society like ours where confidence in the institutions is so important”.

In his introduction today the Chief Justice said the two journalists were acting in "nothing other than a perfectly appropriately way in doing what the NUJ required of them, which was to protect their sources."

Welcoming the ruling Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

"This is a victory for Trevor and Barry, for the NUJ and for press freedom. The High Court has affirmed the right of journalists to protect confidential sources of information and provided clear and unambiguous directions for the appropriate manner in which the PSNI and the courts should behave in seeking to access journalistic material. There can be no short cuts when it comes to fundamental principles of human rights.  

"The attitude of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary has been profoundly disappointing and it is evident that their mission has been to frustrate at every turn the work of the two journalists. There are many disturbing aspects of this case. From the initial ex parte hearing last August to the relentless efforts of the PSNI to restrict the movement of Barry and Trevor through draconian bail provisions we have witnessed a direct attack on media freedom.

"In a democratic society trust in the police is vital. That trust was shattered by the actions of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary. Today’s ruling by the High Court sets the standard for future behaviour and I hope that the incoming Chief Constable pays attention to the judgement. He will also have to address a culture of suspicion of and aggression towards reporters and photographers by elements within the PSNI.

"In the tangled web revealed in the High Court we have been given a disturbing insight into the mindset of those who have been charged with protecting citizens. From the NUJ perspective we were especially shocked to learn that, following a visit by Barry and Trevor to the House of Commons, arranged by the union, an abusive call was made to the office of Grahame Morris, Labour MP in Durham, who had met the delegation."
On Wednesday, Barry MacDonald QC, who represented Barry McCaffrey, said the motivation for the arrests could be found in the attitude of Darren Ellis. He said that earlier this year after Trevor and Barry held a meeting with Grahame Morris, a Labour MP in Durham, to discuss their case, Morris received a call from someone purporting to be Darren Ellis. The caller was “foul and abusive” to his staff and had “ranted” about the MP having met terrorists and criminals.

"This was a shocking allegation against two, independent journalists of the highest integrity and a microcosm of the malign attitude towards NUJ members whose only crime was their quest for truth and justice for the victims of the Loughinisland massacre."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary paid tribute to Trevor and Barry and to all who supported the NUJ campaign in support of their case and said:

"This is an important legal victory and we salute all involved in this case. As general secretary I want to acknowledge the wonderful campaigning work of NUJ members and friends across the UK, Ireland and beyond those borders. Faced with a threat to press freedom, from whatever quarter, our members never fail to rise to the challenge.

"The message from this case is clear. Journalists have a right to stick to the code of conduct and NUJ members have a right to affirm that right when confronted with an application for a search warrant. We value our code of conduct and we encourage journalists not already in our union to join us, to sign up to the code of conduct and recognise that there is indeed power in a union.

"This has been a time of great stress for Trevor, Barry, their family, friends and work colleagues. No journalist should have to endure such treatment simply for standing up for journalism, for sticking to the NUJ’s code of conduct and for defending their right to do so. At this time we think also of the Loughinisland families, who have shown such grace and dignity at all times and whose determination to seek the truth has been a source of inspiration."

NUJ colleagues led by Gerry Carson, joint chair of the union’s Irish executive council and Séamus Dooley, assistant general secretary were in court to hear the judgement along with supporters from Amnesty International led by Paddy Corrigan, Amnesty’s representative in Northern Ireland and former government minister, brexit secretary and Conservative MP David Davis.

Gerry Carson said:

"This has been a dark period for journalism in Northern Ireland. Today’s ruling is a welcome vindication of the rights of journalists and will be welcomed by all who value freedom of expression. I want to thank all who supported our campaign and who stood up for journalism."

Tags: , no stone unturned, belfast, courts, legal action, legal challenge, legal support, code of conduct, ethics, protection of sources, sources, public interest journalism, public interest, investigative journalism