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"It’s us today, tomorrow it could be you" - No Stone Unturned

23 November 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.

Trevor and Barry are both still on (pre-charge) bail.

In response, the NUJ has launched a global solidarity campaign calling for the immediate lifting of the threat of legal action.

Trevor and Barry will be in London for a special screening of the film at the NUJ’s head office in Kings Cross on Thursday 6 December starting at 19.00.

The screening is an opportunity to show your solidarity and support this vitally important campaign.

Tickets for the event cost £8.14. All the proceeds from the night will go to NUJ Extra, the union’s charity for members in need.

To book your ticket - please visit the event page online.

Tags: , no stone unturned, press freedom, journalists arrested, northern ireland, ethics, public interest