N Ireland police to pay damages to journalists over arrests

Fri, Nov 27, 2020 (8:56 a.m.)

LONDON — Police in Northern Ireland have agreed to pay damages to two journalists who were arrested on suspicion of stealing confidential documents after working on a documentary about an unsolved mass killing, lawyers said Friday.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey worked on “No Stone Unturned,” a 2017 documentary by Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney about a 1994 massacre in the Northern Ireland village of Loughinisland.

Six people were killed when Protestant paramilitary gunmen burst into a bar and opened fire on customers watching Ireland play in a World Cup soccer match. No one has ever been convicted of the killings.

A 2016 report by Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman said the police investigation was undermined by a desire to protect informants inside outlawed paramilitary groups.

“No Stone Unturned” explored the investigation and allegations of police collusion.

Birney and McCaffrey were arrested in 2018 by officers investigating the alleged theft of documents from the police ombudsman.

A court ruled last year that the warrants used to search the journalists’ homes and offices had been “inappropriate.” Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologized to McCaffrey and Birney earlier this year.

The police service agreed to pay a total of 875,000 pounds ($1.2 million) to the two journalists and film company Fine Point Films, as well as legal costs. The settlement was announced Friday at Belfast High Court.

Birney urged the department's chief to “ensure accountability for the PSNI’s despicable attack on press freedom and to assure the press that lessons have been learned.”

McCaffrey welcomed the settlement but questioned why it had taken so long.

“This whole thing has cost the state millions,” he said. “Millions of pounds wasted for what? This could have been spent on COVID and people in hospitals, but somebody within the PSNI decided that public money, millions of pounds of public money, was going to be wasted. Who’s going to be held to account?”

Back to top

Share