Belfast journalists questioned by police

Two prominent Belfast journalists are being questioned by police.

It is understood that efforts are being made to restrict the ability of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey to speak about their case.

The award-winning reporters were arrested in August over the alleged theft of confidential material from the offices of Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Dr Michael Maguire.

The material relates to a police investigation into the murder of six men in Loughinisland.

A police press release issued at the time stated the investigation was triggered when the ombudsman reported the theft to police.

That claim has since been directly contradicted by the ombudsman’s office itself.

However, Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton told the Policing Board in February that he wants to “bust the myth that there was no statement of complaint”.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We had a report of what was quite a serious offence in terms of theft of the documents,” he said.

Mr Hamilton said he had asked Durham Police to carry out the investigation to give confidence.

He said the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary is willing to attend a meeting of the Policing Board to answer questions around the arrests.

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey produced a documentary about the 1994 Loughinisland killings, which were carried out by loyalist terrorists.

The No Stone Unturned programme examined claims of state collusion in the murders.

Barry McCaffrey, left, and Trevor Birney
Barry McCaffrey, left, and Trevor Birney (Liam McBurney/PA)

In February, Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey won the right at the High Court to challenge the legality of search warrants issued during the investigation.

The case is set to be heard in May.

Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists have spoken out in support of the journalists.

Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said the arrests of “two of the most widely respected journalists in Northern Ireland has sent a shiver of fear through the region”.

“When the police are arresting journalists who have investigated police collusion in the killing of civilians, rather than the killers and those who helped them get away with murder, people everywhere should be worried,” he said.

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