A POLICE raid of the Belfast homes and office of two investigative journalists will be challenged as part of a judicial review that started at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast last Tuesday morning and is scheduled to run for three days.
NUJ members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested and questioned by police in August 2018 in connection with the documentary film No Stone Unturned. The pair have not been charged and remain on bail until September 2019.
The judicial review will focus on the legitimacy of the search warrants used by police to carry out the raids.
Both the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Durham Constabulary are involved in the ongoing criminal investigation.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: ‘Now more than ever we need critical, bold, outstanding investigative journalism that is in the public interest. Democracy is in danger without it.
‘Journalists should never be targeted for simply doing their jobs and for shining a light on human rights abuses in Northern Ireland and, crucially, the state’s complicity in the killing of civilians.
‘The continuing legal threats faced by Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey and the way the search warrants were granted and used cannot go unchallenged.
‘This case has huge ramifications for the whole media industry and the NUJ will do everything it can to support those who fight for the truth.’
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, said: ‘This case is crucial to the freedom of the press in the UK. Journalists must be free to investigate issues of public concern without fear of arrest and imprisonment.
‘When armed police are raiding the homes of journalists, while helping killers evade justice, there is something deeply wrong.
‘Simon Byrne, the newly-appointed PSNI chief constable, ought to be deeply troubled by this case and the reputational damage it is causing the police force he is now set to lead.
‘If he is wise, he will draw a line under this affair, apologise to Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney and commit the PSNI to putting the Loughinisland killers, rather than journalists, behind bars.’
Due to the significance of the judicial review, the Media Lawyers Association, an association of in-house media lawyers from newspapers, magazines, book publishers, broadcasters and news agencies in the UK, have intervened in the case and freedom of expression groups, English PEN and Index on Censorship have also submitted evidence and called for the search warrants to be ruled unlawful.
- Bromley library workers will strike continuously from Thursday 6th June to demand full staffing of the borough’s libraries.
The strike is also part of a campaign by the Unite union to give a big pay boost to workers employed by social enterprise leisure services’ giant Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).
The 50 library staff, who are employed by GLL, voted by 98 per cent to strike on pay and also on issues specifically relating to the running of Bromley’s 14 libraries.
The dispute relates to GLL bosses not filling vacant posts; asking staff to be managers without paying the proper rate for the job; and failing to pay wages owed.
Unite is seeking a six per cent increase in basic pay from April 2019 for its hundreds of members working for GLL in more than 140 leisure centres and libraries in 16 London boroughs, as well as in Belfast.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: ‘The near unanimous vote for strike action by our Bromley library members sends a strong message to GLL bosses that: “Enough is enough”.
‘Our members will walk out on 6th June and strike until a settlement is reached – this action will lead to the closure of the borough’s 14 libraries.
‘We regret the inconvenience this will cause the public, but this strike has been a long time coming caused by the profit-hungry GLL with a management committed to ruthlessly salami-slicing our members’ pay and employment conditions.
‘The evidence for this is incontrovertible – GLL promised the Tory-controlled Bromley council that it would implement library service cuts of over 25 per cent if it were awarded the contract to run this much-loved public service.
‘Generally, profitable Greenwich Leisure Limited has a poor reputation as an employer and is always looking to maximise profits at the expense of the dedicated workforce which ensures the smooth running of leisure centres and libraries across the UK on a daily basis.
‘GLL still has time before the Bromley strike starts on 6th June to sit down and talk with Unite to resolve these outstanding issues – Unite is standing by for such negotiations.’
Meanwhile, Unison has welcomed moves to protect tenants from unfair and unnecessary fees from private landlords and letting agents contained in the Tenancy Fees Act which comes into force in England on 1st June.
The union says the act ‘will make a huge difference to our members who privately rent in England’ by reducing upfront costs.
The new legislation bans unfair lettings fees for administration, reference checks and tenancy renewal fees, which create huge affordability problems for private tenants.
It also sets out penalties that will be levied on landlords if they breach the law. Private tenants can also recover any unlawfully charged fees.
It follows the lead of the Scottish government, which has already banned lettings fees. The Welsh Assembly is legislating its own ban.
The new rules mean that private tenants will no longer have to pay upfront fees in addition to their rent and refundable deposits when they sign a new tenancy.
However, landlords will still be able to charge certain fees, which are reasonable and where they provide evidence, such as:
- When changing or ending a tenancy is requested by a tenant;
- Charges related to council tax, utilities or communications, where they are not included in the rent;
- Fees for late payment of rent;
- Fees for replacing lost keys.
More and more Unison members rent their homes privately, dealing with insecure tenancies and high rents.
‘As a result they face uncertainty and struggle to pay the rent each month as well as other living costs,’ says Unison assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones.
‘The reform of lettings fees in England is a victory for our members, as it will lead to reduced costs and make private renting more affordable for private tenants.’
But more needs to be done to improve affordability and security, and ‘Unison will continue to call on the government to overhaul the private housing system to give tenants greater security, stability and protection from frequent rent increases,’ she added.