THE PSNI has accepted it was “an omission” not to inform two journalists who were unlawfully arrested over their documentary on the Loughinisland massacre about a PSNI review into their case.
The review, carried out by a senior barrister, strongly criticised police’s handling of the case and questioned whether officers should ever have investigated Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.
However, police did not inform either journalist that the review had been completed last year, or what its findings were.
The review has also never been published in full.
But a summary of its findings was published last month in the Policing Board’s annual human rights report.
Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were falsely arrested in August 2018 over their documentary No Stone Unturned into the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) murder of six Catholic men in Loughinisland, Co Down, in June 1994.
The High Court in Belfast later found that the warrant issued for searches of the documentary makers’ homes and offices and the seizing of journalistic material was unlawful.
The investigation into the journalists was dropped with substantial damages paid to both men and a public apology by Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
In February 2021, the PSNI initiated a ‘lessons learned’ review arising from the case, which included reflections on the role of journalists and freedom of expression.
But neither Mr Birney nor Mr McCaffrey were ever contacted about the review.
Alliance MLA Nuala McAllister yesterday told the Policing Board - the PSNI’s oversight body - that she was “disappointed, along with others, to understand that both Barry and Trevor were not made aware of what was actually going on”.
She asked why the journalists had not been told about the progress of the review.
“In terms of confidence in policing, the major aspects of this case, and what followed after, and the impact that it has in confidence in policing, not just with the public but also when it comes to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, why was there no communication?” she said.
“Perhaps are there lessons to be learned about that communication to both Trevor and Barry?”
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton told the Policing Board that the review was “effectively a desk-top examination of the legal case by a lawyer”.
He added: “Nobody was interviewed as part of the process.”
“It was an omission on our part to at least inform the journalists and I accept that. It certainly wasn’t a deliberate omission,” he said.
No Stone Unturned investigated the murders of six Catholic men - Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39) - who were killed when the UVF opened fire on The Heights bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, during a 1994 World Cup football match between the Republic of Ireland and Italy.
The PSNI review into the journalists’ arrests questioned whether they had committed any offences which justified a police investigation.
The review found police investigators were not properly objective and looked at minor issues in the case “through an overly suspicious lens”.
It is understood that no police officer has been sanctioned or disciplined over the case.
Amnesty International has written to the Chief Constable calling for the PSNI review to be published in full.
Mr Birney said the journalists need to see the complete review.
“We understand that Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International has written to the PSNI seeking the full disclosure of the review into the case,” he said.
“Only when we get to see it will we have a full understanding of what exactly they reviewed.
“The handling of this so-called review, and the admission that they should have spoken to Barry and myself, does not instil any confidence that they are indeed will hold themselves to account.”
Mr McCaffrey said the review should be published to allow it to be scrutinised by the Policing Board.
“The PSNI’s admission that they failed to inform us about this review shows the need for the Policing Board to be able to properly scrutinise and hold the police to account,” he said.
“If public confidence in the PSNI is to be restored this report should be given to the Policing Board.
“The days of the PSNI investigating itself must be brought to an end."