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NUJ welcomes final settlement for No Stone Unturned journalists

27 November 2020

The NUJ has congratulated union members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey on their final settlement agreed today in Belfast's High Court. The settlement marks a resolution of a two-year battle by the journalists arising from their investigative and award-winning film No Stone Unturned. The documentary exposes the story of the 1994 Loughinisland murders.

Trevor and Barry were arrested in August 2018 and their homes and offices were raided. In May 2019 Belfast appeal court judges quashed the warrants for their arrests. In July 2020, the PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne apologised to the journalists and since then, the journalists have been engaged in negotiations which resulted in the settlement today.

The settlement covers a range of issues including: The PSNI agreeing to destroy all forensic samples linked to the case including photographs, fingerprints and DNA. Durham Constabulary and the PSNI had also agreed to delete all original copies, downloads and extracts of the material they took from the journalists.

Durham Constabulary and the PSNI will retain a limited amount of material for the purpose of dealing with any potential judicial, quasi-judicial, disciplinary or other further proceedings but those materials will be held by the Crown Solicitor's Office.

It has been confirmed that some of the data held by Durham Constabulary on backup tapes has now been destroyed, some data will be destroyed one year after the data was last backed up. The PSNI backup tapes relating to the case will be destroyed in the usual way after 10 years, and until this time both Durham Constabulary and the PSNI shall each install a gatekeeper system to restrict all access to this information.

In a joint statement Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary and Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:

"This is a great day for journalism and for all who care for human rights. Over the last two years Trevor and Barry have inspired support and solidarity from across society; from the media industry, from the trade union movement, from cross-party politicians and members of the public. They uncovered the truth about human rights abuses in Northern Ireland, they took a brave stance to defend themselves and they paid a heavy personal price for doing so.
"As a union we are proud of our collective efforts in this campaign and we have supported Trevor and Barry at every step. We knew from the start there were grave implications if we did not win this case. So today is a good day; for every NUJ member and for journalism in the UK and Ireland. The NUJ is proud to have invested in the legal battle and in the public campaign in support of Barry and Trevor.
"Thanks are due to every union member and our supporters at a local, national and international level. NUJ staff and members have worked with others in support of Trevor and Barry’s fight for justice in many ways and were proud to do so. The contribution of our Northern Ireland branches is deserving of special mention.
"In congratulating Trevor and Barry we also congratulate the legal team and acknowledge the time and effort put in by both teams."

Trevor Birney said:

"We launched a Judicial Review in the face of the PSNI’s most egregious attack on journalism to protect our journalism, our sources, and press freedom itself.

"Fine Point Films fully funded the costs of our Judicial Review and defence of press freedom. This added significantly to the stress on the company and its employees, a stress created by the PSNI’s unlawful actions - supported by Durham Constabulary - against Barry McCaffrey and myself.

"Over the past two years, the PSNI fought our attempts to protect our journalism and sources every step of the way. They sought to defend their indefensible attack on press freedom right up until the judgment delivered by the Lord Chief Justice in July this year.

"We have welcomed the current Chief Constable’s apology for the actions of the PSNI. No such apology has been received by his predecessor George Hamilton under whose leadership the PSNI arrested us. Journalists in this jurisdiction now need to see Simon Byrne take all steps necessary to ensure accountability for the PSNI’s despicable attack on press freedom and to assure the press that lessons have been learned."

Barry McCaffrey said:

"It is a huge relief for ourselves and our families that this two-year nightmare has now finally been ended with today's court agreement.

"We fought this case to protect press freedom and the right for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs, free from state persecution and threat. However, it is deeply disturbing that we have had to drag police kicking and screaming through endless court hearings, and at every turn the police have attempted to block and frustrate any early resolution to this case. Even at the 11th hour last night the police were still trying to gag us from talking publicly about the facts of our case.

"Millions of pounds of taxpayers money was wasted on our arrests and the PSNI's utterly futile legal challenge to defend their unlawful actions. But who in the PSNI is going to be held accountable for our unlawful arrests? Who is going to tell the public what person in authority thought it was right to arrest two journalists simply for doing their job? Sadly, I fear that no one will be held to account. Who knows how much damage this debacle has caused to confidence in policing.

"What we do know is that the Loughinisland families will wake up tomorrow morning not one inch closer to knowing why the PSNI still refuses to bring the perpetrators of the massacre to justice. The Chief Constable Simon Byrne could right that wrong quite easily. He could give the Loughinisland families and hundreds of other families the answers that they deserve, and it wouldn't cost a single penny. I hope and pray that even now he has the courage to do so. Protecting killers is not proper policing. This society deserves better and I hope he will do that.

"Just as the police have a job to do, so do journalists. When we make mistakes we are rightly held to account. It is only right and proper that the police are held up to the same standards."

Tags: , no stone unturned, investigative journalism, ethics, code of conduct, belfast, northern ireland, protection of sources, psni, durham constabulary, police, police service of northern ireland