‘Important victory’ for journalism after arrest warrant quashed

A “great victory” for worldwide journalism has been scored following the quashing of an arrest warrant against two documentary makers, their director has said.

Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were detained last August over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film on a notorious loyalist massacre during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Alex Gibney directed the No Stone Unturned film and returns to Belfast on Wednesday to open a new Docs Ireland festival event where he will talk about his latest work.

He said: “It was a great victory. I thought the original arrest was terribly unjust and clearly meant as a display to discourage future journalism on the Troubles.

“For the warrant to be quashed was a great thing.

“It was a great victory and a very important one at this moment in time throughout the world.”

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey have retrieved a vast haul of journalistic and personal material unlawfully seized by police, and called for senior officers to be held to account.

Detectives dropped their investigation into them following a court ruling.

Mr Gibney said: “There cannot be good journalism about the misconduct of governments if, when government secrets are leaked, it becomes effectively a crime at least for the reporters, then no governments can ever be held to account.

“Because all they have to do is make sure that everything they do is so-called secret and then no amount of corruption or malfeasance or incompetence will ever be revealed because it will all be secret.”

Three senior judges in Belfast quashed warrants used by police to seize a wide range of journalistic material during early morning raids on the men’s homes and their film company, Fine Point.

Their 2017 documentary No Stone Unturned broke new ground by naming suspects it said were involved in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) killings of six Catholic men gathered in a village pub watching the Republic of Ireland play a World Cup football match on TV.

Mr Gibney said one of the key jobs of journalists was to hold governments to account and publishing leaked material was essential.

He is visiting Belfast to discuss The Inventor: Out for Blood In Silicon Valley, his story about the psychology of fraud.

It focuses on a woman who attracted huge amounts of investment for a blood testing machine that did not exist.

Mr Gibney said: “Capitalism turns out to be a lot more about belief and confidence and matters of psychology than it does about rigorous equations of risk or reward, which are only based on the facts.”

He said his documentary was about “grand claims” made about innate value, monetary and moral.

“Economics is about human survival, it is how we all make enough money to eat and in that regard it really should not be about how all the just desserts go to the inventors or the CEOs and how there is an obligation for capitalism to deliver for everybody, and if it does not what are we doing with it?”