September 4, 2018 - Updated on October 26, 2018

RSF condemns arrests of journalists in Northern Ireland

Police officers in Belfast in 2017/ AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arrests of journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in Northern Ireland. The two men were detained on allegations of theft of confidential documents from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, related to the police investigation into the murder of six men in County Down in 1994, widely referred to as the ‘Loughinisland massacre’.

Both experienced, award-winning reporters and film producers, Birney and McCaffrey were arrested on 31 August at their homes by armed police officers at approximately 7:00 am and detained and questioned for 14 hours at Musgrave Police Station in Belfast before being released on bail that evening. Police also searched their homes and a business premises, and confiscated documents and computer equipment.

“We are concerned by the arrests of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in connection with confidential source materials used in their journalistic work. Investigative reporting in the public interest must be protected. The charges against the two journalists should be dropped and the seized materials immediately returned”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.

Birney and McCaffrey produced a documentary about the Loughinisland massacre and the alleged police cover-up that followed, titled ‘No Stone Unturned’, which was released in November 2017. Fine Point Films, the company that produced the documentary, has filed emergency proceedings with Belfast High Court, challenging the legality of the warrant police used to search the properties. The seized materials will not be examined by police until the court gives further orders.

The UK is ranked 40th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.