PSNI must hand back material from No Stone Unturned case
The police must take immediate steps to return all data and material held, and bring those responsible for the Loughinisland massacre to justice.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the UK and Ireland has welcomed the apologies issued to Northern Ireland journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey by PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne for their unlawful arrests in August 2018.
In welcoming the apologies, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary and Séamus Dooley, assistant general secretary, in a joint statement called on the PSNI to take immediate steps to return all data held by the police to the journalists and to bring those responsible for the Loughinisland massacre to justice.
In a statement issued today, Simon Byrne said:
"This morning I have written to both Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney offering them an unreserved apology for the distress and upset caused to them and their families following the execution of search warrants at their homes and business premises on 31 August 2018.
"While the searches were planned and conducted at the direction of officers from Durham Constabulary, those officers were acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in an external capacity and I fully accept the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice that the search warrants were unlawful. The Police Service of Northern Ireland will be reviewing all findings of the judgment to ensure that all appropriate learning is taken."
Reacting to the announcement, Michelle Stanistreet and Séamus Dooley said:
"Our members should not have had to endure a two-year ordeal at the hands of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary. Not only were the unlawful arrests a cause of distress, the police stance since the illegal detentions has had a devastating impact on these two NUJ members. Their only crime was to make a documentary highlighting the appalling injustices perpetrated at Loughinisland.
"At every stage in the legal process, the police were obstructive, adding to the cost of proceedings and to the suffering of Barry, Trevor and their families. No journalist should ever be put in this position simply for doing their job.
"The PSNI still retains a vast amount of journalistic material, despite the court order. If these apologies are to mean anything, the chief constable must bring about an end to this shameful episode by arranging the immediate hand over of all material seized or copied. Last week's clear and unambiguous court ruling must be followed by swift and decisive police action to remedy this wrong.
"The Loughinisland families deserve justice. That can only happen if the PSNI act on the information contained in 'No Stone Unturned'. As investigative journalists Barry and Trevor never sought to be the focus of attention. We salute their commitment, courage and perseverance and want to acknowledge all who stood with them in their campaign. We are proud of the role played by NUJ members and the wider trade union movement in supporting our members."
Reacting to the apology, Barry McCaffrey said:
"I welcome this unreserved apology from Mr Byrne on behalf of the PSNI. It's unfortunate that it has taken the PSNI 685 days to do the right thing and finally apologise since they raided our homes at 7am on 31 August 31 2018. The chief constable says the PSNI will look at what lessons need to be learned. I sincerely hope it does. I think it's obvious that this was a lesson on how not to do policing in a democratic society. This was a deliberate and direct attack on press freedom.
"On the morning of our arrest the police publicly accused us of having put peoples' lives at risk. This was an outrageous slur on our personal and professional reputations. The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan made it clear in his judgement that this was completely untrue and without foundation. We have had to live for the last 2 years with that highly damaging slur hanging over our heads. Who in the PSNI is going to be held to account?
"The court found that there was indeed unlawful and illegal actions in this case, but it wasn't by Trevor Birney or myself. It was by the PSNI and Durham Constabulary.
"Unfortunately, the senior police officers who took the highly questionable decisions to arrest us will not now be held to account as they have been allowed to retire, with their substantial pensions. Who is going to be held to account for the hundreds of thousands of pounds that was wasted in this case? Where is the accountability?
"Unfortunately, even though the court found that the PSNI unlawfully obtained our personal data, they still refuse to delete the confidential material belonging to us which they still retain. They say they want to hold on to this material, even though it was obtained illegally, for 10 years. Why is that? This isn't North Korea, this is supposed to be the north of Ireland 2020. What rights and protections does an individual have if the PSNI is allowed to retain unlawfully obtained material for a decade?
"While I welcome the chief constable's apology, I feel this sorry chapter in bad policing cannot be properly resolved until this issue of data protection is dealt with fully.
"The police had a job to do, to catch the Loughinisland killers, today I hope they now finally get around to doing this."
Statement on behalf of Trevor Birney:
"Trevor Birney welcomes this morning's unreserved apology. He is however conscious that actions speak louder than words and look forward to the words being met with decisive reparative action in the upcoming mediation between the parties, a matter which the chief constable personally referenced in the apology. There remain serious issues to be addressed in relation to the PSNI's illegal retention of massive swathes of Trevor Birney's data, his unlawful arrest, wrongful detention, and the impact it has had on his business.
"He is determined that the PSNI and Durham officers who instigated and overseen his unlawful arrest and detention are held to account. In meantime, he looks forward positively to the mediation to hopefully conclude this sorry episode in the days ahead."