Journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey have said the PSNI should apologise after the Court of Appeal spelled out why it had quashed a search warrant used to mount shocking heavy-handed raids against them in 2018.
The High Court ruled that a hearing at which the PSNI police improperly obtained warrants to carry out raids on the homes and offices of two journalists fell “woefully short” of fair standards.
Senior judges identified no grounds for the authorisation which led to the arrests. Judge Declan Morgan said the two men had been acting only as investigative reporters adhering to their professional code.
“We see no overriding requirement in the public interest which could have justified an interference with the protection of journalistic sources in this case,” he said.
In August 2018 Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were arrested and interrogated in a case linked to an Emmy-nominated documentary film on the Loughinisland atrocity. It alleged police collusion with unionist paramilitaries in the 1994 massacre of six nationalist civilians in a pub in the village.
The PSNI obtained search permits as part of an investigation into what it claimed was the ‘theft’ of information from the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
Aggressive raids were carried out at their homes and offices, and computer equipment, files, phones, cameras and notebooks were all seized.
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International welcomed the judgement which he said was “a landmark decision for press freedom”.
Speaking outside court, Mr McCaffrey and Mr Birney demanded an apology from PSNI Chief Simon Byrne.
“I hope that Simon Byrne this evening sees that he has to now apologise, this didn’t happen on his watch but the responsibility falls on his shoulders to put this right and he should be putting it right immediately,” Mr Birney said.
“He doesn’t need time to study this judgment. He lost 10-nil in court, police should never have arrested us, they should never have searched our homes and offices and they should not have put us through this ordeal.”
Mr McCaffrey added: “Journalists throughout Ireland and the UK were waiting for this judgment because it has now copper-fastened protections. The highest court in the land has protected our right to protect sources and to ask the difficult questions. All we did was our job.”
Separately, Éistigí has said it is to hold a public protest outside the headquarters of the PSNI in Derry against the rise in what it said was politically motivated house raids, searches and detentions.
“When warrants are asked to be seen they are often signed and authorised by a British judge months prior to the execution of the raid. Sarcastically the warrant will say ‘to preserve evidence’,” they said.
“When the political activist arrives at Musgrave Interrogation Centre, its clear there is no evidence of a so called crime, no specific reason for their detention other than they dare have a political opinion that does not sit with the status quo.
“The activist is released only to return to a trashed home and traumatised family. British Crown Forces have done their work.”