PSNI 'must publish report which criticised journalists' arrests'

Journalist Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Photo by Press Eye

Journalist Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Photo by Press Eye

A LEADING human rights body has criticised the PSNI’s decision not to publish a report which highlighted serious failings in the arrests of two investigative journalists.

Trevor Birney and Barry 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.

Both men received substantial damages and a public apology by PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne. The police investigation was also dropped.

A PSNI review, which strongly criticised police’s handling of the case, was completed last year.

The review has never been published but a summary, published in the Policing Board’s annual human rights report earlier this year, strongly criticised the handling of the case and questioned whether the journalists should ever have been investigated.

Despite repeated calls for the report to be published in full, the PSNI has said this will not happen.

In response to several Freedom of Information requests, the PSNI said the report could not be published in its present form because it “was not commissioned or written in a format for publication”.

“As it was written by a then QC, it is legally and professionally privileged,” the force stated.

The PSNI said it will instead publish a “public facing version of this report which does not attract exemptions under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act)”.

The news comes amid revelations that Mr McCaffrey’s phone was accessed by the PSNI in 2013 while he was investigating potential corruption in the force.

Mr McCaffrey said last month he was stunned to learn that his phone was accessed while he was investigating allegations that a senior PSNI employee was in receipt of payments from a private company.

(L-R) Journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey with Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International. Photo by Press Eye

(L-R) Journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey with Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International. Photo by Press Eye

Patrick Corrigan, from Amnesty International Northern Ireland, said it was in the public interest for the original report into the arrests of the journalists to be published.

“It is very disappointing that the PSNI has once again refused to make its review into their disastrous policing operation against journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney public,” he said.

“Amnesty International first wrote to the Chief Constable back in January calling for him to publish the full report into this disturbing case.

“The PSNI’s targeting of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey undermined press freedom in Northern Ireland and came at huge cost to public confidence in policing, as well as to the public purse.

“Five years on from the raids and arrests, no-one within the police has been held accountable and senior management continues to refuse to disclose the full detail of their review.

“Claiming legal privilege simply because the review was written by a lawyer, should not override the overwhelming public interest in having this report made public.

“The public and the Policing Board must fully understand what went wrong, demand accountability and ensure that this never happens again.”

The PSNI has come under the spotlight over the past week for two major data breaches.

The force mistakenly shared details about 10,000 of its employees on Tuesday, sparking fears that paramilitary groups could use the information to target officers.

It later emerged that a PSNI superintendent's car, which was stolen from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, on July 6, contained a laptop and sensitive documents including the names of more than 200 serving officers and staff.

The officers and staff affected were not told of the July breach for a month, police have admitted.

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