The arrest of two journalists for the ‘theft’ of ‘secret information’ used in a TV documentary about the Loughinisland massacre has descended into a pantomime public row, leaving the victims of the atrocity furious at the abuse of police resources.
Six civilians were killed and five wounded in June 1994 when loyalist paramilitaries, thought to be acting in collusion with the then RUC police, opened fire in a busy pub in a County Down village.
Two mainstream journalists who made a film about the massacre, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, were recently arrested in high-profile police operations. Documents and computer equipment were seized by police officers, who also raided the offices of the film production company ‘Below The Radar’.
The raids were actually carried out by an English police force, Durham Constabulary. They said they were requested to do so by the police (now PSNI) in response to the report of a theft of documents from the office of the Police Ombudsman’s office.
The source of the ‘theft’ claim was said to have been the Police Ombudsman’s office itself -- but the office this week repeatedly denied making any such complaint.
Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire repeatedly contradicted the claim that there had been an allegation of theft, negating the whole basis of the men’s arrests.
Durham police bizarrely rejected this denial, and have since described the journalists’ alleged ‘crime’ as “unauthorised disclosure and other linked offences”.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said there had been an attack on the freedom of the press. He noted that the documentary took its name from a pledge by then British Direct Ruler Patrick Mayhew that there would be ‘no stone unturned’ in the hunt for the killers.
“Instead the families of those murdered have been subject to more than 20 years of state cover-up on collusion into the murders, and no one has ever been brought before the courts for the Loughinisland Massacre,” he said.
“And instead of the police taking action against those responsible for murdering these six people, they arrested the two journalists who exposed the evidence to TV screens across the world.
“These arrests were an attack on the freedom of press which is a fundamental element of any democratic society that allows journalists to carry out their work unhindered and the PSNI clearly have serious questions to answer.”
The PSNI’s actions fall into a continuing pattern of political, anti-nationalist policing in the north of Ireland.
Emma Rogan, whose father, Adrian, was one of the six men murdered at Loughinisland in 1994, said the families were angry that police were placing such emphasis on the documentary.
“Do the PSNI and Durham not realise that six people were wiped off the face of the earth, and that this film, along with Dr Maguire’s report, contained information that could help them to catch the murderers?” she said.
“We have been down a long dark road to get some truth and justice. We are still traumatised.”
Lawyers for the two men have already said they will seek to have the investigation stopped, since it would have no legal basis if a complaint of theft was never made.
The chairman of the National Union of Journalist’s Belfast and District Branch chairman Gerry Carson said “the twists and turns” are “rapidly approaching” farce.
The arrests, said Mr Carson, were an attempt “to warn other journalists not to criticise the police - a practice adopted in countries where democracy and the freedom of the press is demonised”.