The PSNI stand accused of once again actively colluding in a loyalist massacre by directing the arrest of two award-winning investigative journalists who worked to expose the truth behind the 1994 Loughinisland killings.
Both men, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were marched from their homes on Friday morning in front of family members and neighbours. Computers and papers were seized from the homes, as well as from an office used by a film company involved in the production.
The documentary film they helped to make, ‘No Stone Unturned’, was released last November. It looked at the notorious murder of six innocent Catholic civilians who were gunned down in a small pub as they watched a World Cup soccer game on television. Six others were injured.
The PSNI claimed the arrests were in relation to the “theft” of “confidential documents” from the Police Ombudsman’s office.
The director of the film, Alex Gibney described the arrests as “outrageous”. In a tweet, he said the film had exposed the failure of the PSNI (formerly RUC) to properly investigate the massacre. “Police reaction? Re-open murder investigation? No. Arrest the truth tellers,” the Oscar-winning director wrote.
The men were held at Musgrave PSNI barracks in Belfast city centre before being released on Friday night. A vigil took place in Loughinisland as the journalists were being questioned.
The familes of the victims of the massacre have said they were “shocked and appalled” at the development. “The British government have systematically denied and continue to cover up its role in the murder of six people in the Heights Bar,” said Clair Rogan, whose father was among the fatalities.
“Today’s arrests show the lengths of desperation that the British government and state forces are prepared to go to, in order to stifle the truth about what happened in Loughinisland.”
The documentary film reopened the controversy over collusion last year when it explored the killings in detail and named the three chief suspects in the murders for the first time. However, nobody has yet been charged in relation to the atrocity.
For the families, the pain of knowing those responsible have not been questioned, but those seeking to expose the truth of the massacre have been, has created a sense of shock.
Ms Rogan said the families and others across the island, some of whom have been denied the basic right to an inquest, had campaigned for years against state collusion and for truth and justice for their loved ones.
“These actions are the latest attempt to deter the work of families and journalists who seek to shine the light on the dark levels of collusion at the heart of the British state,” she said.
Around 100 people turned out at the Heights Bar in silent solidarity with the journalists. Several held a banner calling for justice, while others held photographs of their murdered loved ones. Emma Rogan, sister of Clair, said the “whole community were shocked to hear [the journalists] were arrested while the perpetrators of this heinous act have never been charged”.
A number of people from the worlds of arts and academia released a statement to add their protest at the arrests. Among those who lent support are Oscar nominated actor Stephen Rea and Irish Film Award winning actor John Connors.
“At a time when truth telling is vitally important to the overall process of conflict transformation, the right to investigate all alleged abuses, including those by the state, should not be curtailed and must be given the freedom under any normal democratic society,” they said.
Sinn Fein said the arrests and raids were “of grave concern and run contrary to freedom of the press which is a fundamental element of a democratic society”.
Saoradh said the arrests were “indicative of the colonial mindset” that remains within the “unreformed” PSNI. “The same militia is not only responsible for directing and protecting the Pro-British Death Squad, but now also seemingly intent on silencing those who shine a light on their dark and murky world of agents and murderers,” they said.
Amnesty International also expressed deep concern. “These arrests will send a worrying message to other journalists in Northern Ireland and could have a chilling effect on legitimate investigative reporting,” said Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan.
The National Union of Journalists said the reporters had a right to lawfully protect confidential sources.
“It is deeply worrying that the focus of police attention should be on journalists rather than on the issues raised in the documentary,” said acting general secretary Seamus Dooley.
“The protection of journalistic sources of confidential information is of vital importance and journalists must be free to operate in the public interest without police interference.
“These journalists are entitled to claim journalistic privilege and to seek the protection of the legal system if there is any attempt to force them to reveal sources.”
The two men were released on bail some 14 hours after being arrested. Their lawyers said “not one scintilla of evidence” had bee put to their clients.
“It’s an attack on the press, everybody should realise,” said Barrry McCaffrey. “It’s us today, tomorrow it could be you.”