ILLEGAL SEARCH WARRANTS QUASHED–RAIDS ON JOURNALISTS’ HOMES WERE ILLEGAL says NUJ

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NUJ members BARRY McCAFFREY and TREVOR BIRNEY in the office of Fine Point Films in Belfast. Photo credit: Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline / Amnesty International

THE IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) has welcomed news that the ‘illegal’ search warrants issued against two journalists are to be quashed.

Following two days in court, Lord Chief Justice Morgan decided on Wednesday that he is ‘minded to quash’ the search warrants linked to the documentary film No Stone Unturned and the raids on the homes and office of NUJ members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

The judge said the next step would be a ‘remedy’ hearing on Friday this week – today.

Welcoming the indication by the High Court Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: ‘We welcome the decision of the High Court and eagerly await the formal quashing of the warrants on Friday.

‘Three High Court judges have vindicated the stance taken by Trevor, Barry and the NUJ.

‘We have said all along that there was no legal basis for the searches and the intrusion into the family life of our members.

‘Their legal teams deserve great credit and we acknowledge the support of allies and friends who rallied behind two brave, independent and committed journalists.

‘Our Irish Executive Council and Belfast and District branch in particular have worked closely with external organisations.

‘I know Barry and Trevor have been impressed by the public support and in particular by the efforts of Amnesty International.

‘I want to thank every NUJ member for their backing and to thank the wider trade union movement for its unflinching support.

‘Huge thanks are also due to our Irish office, campaigns and legal departments but above all I want to pay tribute to Barry and Trevor for the manner in which they have stood by the NUJ code of conduct.’

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: ‘These warrants should never have been issued and Trevor and Barry should never have had to face the intrusion and threats they have faced.

‘They have simply stood up for ethical journalism and we applaud them – and the NUJ for its great campaign in support of two brave journalists.’

Speaking outside court, Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary also paid tribute to the two NUJ members and their legal teams.

He said: ‘When the two journalists were arrested the Irish Journalist headline was: “Stop Fishing: Go Catch the Killers”.

‘Today’s announcement confirms our view that the raids on the homes of Barry and Trevor were illegal.

‘The Chief Justice places a strong emphasis on the right of working journalists to protect their confidential sources.

‘He drew heavily on the NUJ ethics code in questioning counsel for the police services and his written judgement will be of tremendous significance.’

Seamus Dooley also pointed out that, separate from the judicial review, the two journalists remain on police bail until September.

He explained: ‘The judicial review was a challenge to the search warrants and the seizure of journalistic material.

‘Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney are on bail and subject to severe restrictions on their ability to work.

‘The Chief Constable should now lift the threat of criminal prosecution and bring an end to this disgraceful episode.’

Speaking after the decision on Wednesday, Trevor Birney said: ‘When he watched the film, the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) chief constable had a decision to take – to go after the killers or set the dogs on the journalists and press freedom, he chose the latter.

‘In his last days in office he should do the right thing – end this attack on the press.

‘We want to thank all our comrades in the NUJ who stood by us though this ordeal. We are indebted to them all.’

Barry McCaffrey said: ‘This has been a hugely stressful 10 months for our families and friends.

‘This case was always a deliberate and determined attack on press freedom and the media’s ability to hold those in power to proper scrutiny.

‘There were dark forces at the heart of this case and if we had lost it would have had huge ramifications for investigative journalism throughout Ireland and the UK.

‘Thankfully the courts have acknowledged this fact.

‘I would like to thank Sarah Kavanagh and Seamus Dooley at the NUJ, who led a tireless and brilliant campaign in our defence.

‘A huge debt of thanks to our legal teams John Finucane, Niall Murphy, Gavin Millar QC, Barry MacDonald SC, Steven Toal and Peter Girvan.

‘We will always be indebted to Patrick Corrigan at Amnesty, Daniel Holder at the Committee on the Administration of Justice and all of the other human rights defenders who supported us throughout this harrowing ordeal.

‘This is a hugely important day for public interest reporting. The courts have sent a clear message – journalism is not a crime.’

Gerry Carson, chair of the NUJ’s Irish executive council, said: ‘This is a wonderful outcome for journalists everywhere.

‘Our thanks for the great support from NUJ members, Amnesty International, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and many others groups and organisations who have been involved in this campaign.’

  • NUJ members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested and questioned by police in August 2018 in connection with their documentary film No Stone Unturned.

The pair have not been charged and remain on bail until September 2019.

The judicial review focused 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.

The pair were arrested last year over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned on the murders of six men in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994.

They remain under live police investigation and are on bail.

The 2017 film broke new ground by naming the suspects it said were involved in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) killings of six Catholic men who were gathered in a village pub watching the Republic of Ireland play a World Cup football match on TV.

In a 2016 report, the police ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, concluded the security forces had colluded with the UVF and said there were ‘catastrophic failings’ by the authorities.

Journalistic documents, computers, notebooks, files and digital material seized by police when they raided their film production company – Fine Point – were bagged and sealed after lawyers secured an interim injunction preventing detectives examining them pending the hearing of the legal challenge.

The arrest of the two Northern Irish journalists after they embarrassed authorities by obtaining documents relating to a mass murder ‘was the kind of operation more associated with a police state than with a liberal democracy,’ Barry Macdonald QC told the court of appeal in Belfast on Tuesday.

He stressed that investigative journalists and their sources were supposed to be protected from such intrusion.

He said: ‘This operation sets off alarm bells and flashing blue lights amongst media organisations.

‘It set off alarm bells because of the grave implications for freedom of the press.’

He said the judge who granted the search warrant did not have issues surrounding the protection of journalistic sources properly in mind.

Macdonald asserted: ‘The judge effectively unfortunately allowed himself to be used by a single-minded police officer who had his own agenda.’

He told the court: ‘This application arises from a police search operation that was nothing less than outrageous.

‘Under cover of a warrant that was obtained without giving the applicants the opportunity to be heard, and which should never have been granted, the police raided homes and business premises of two journalists and a film company.

‘They rifled through all their confidential files, accessed literally millions of documents, and then seized computers, phones, media storage devices and documentary materials which they still retain – most of them completely unrelated to the pretext on which the search was carried out.’

The QC continued: ‘This was the kind of operation associated more with a police state than with a liberal democracy that does have in place laws designed to protect investigative journalists and their sources from this kind of intrusion.’

Advancing another possible motive, Macdonald said: ‘An ulterior motive was to undermine journalists and whistleblowers from exposing misconduct of the police.’

The three judges heard police were made aware the film was being made, with the intention of naming suspects whose identities have been in the public domain for more than two decades.