Two journalists have been arrested in connection with the suspected theft of confidential documents related to a 1994 massacre in Northern Ireland.
Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey produced a documentary about the mass shooting, carried out by members of a Protestant British loyalist group against a pub frequented mostly by Catholics. Six people were killed, and five were wounded.
The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) reported the theft of the documents to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The police service asked the Durham Police to investigate, and Mr. Birney and Mr. McCaffrey were arrested Friday morning by officers from that force. Durham detectives then searched three properties in relation to the men. They seized some computer equipment and documents.
A police spokesperson said the theft of the documents “potentially puts lives at risk,” the BBC reports.
The journalists' lawyers have challenged the legality of the Durham Police’s search warrant. The seized materials will not be examined pending the results of that challenge.
The award-winning journalists' film, No Stone Unturned, explores the botched investigation of the mass shooting, including alleged collusion between Northern Irish police and the loyalist gunmen who carried out the attack. No one has been charged in relation to the murders, but the film named suspects.
A 2016 report by the police ombudsman said the police investigation had been undermined by a desire to protect informers inside outlawed paramilitary groups.
The film’s director, Alex Gibney, tweeted that the two were arrested for “doing good, hard-hitting journalism," calling it “outrageous.”
Alert: @trevorbirney my producer on "No Stone Unturned," and journalist @Barry_TheDetail have just been arrested in Belfast, NI, for doing good, hard-hitting journalism. Outrageous. Raise ruckus. I am traveling. More later. https://t.co/gOAunwqrxA— Alex Gibney (@alexgibneyfilm) August 31, 2018
Brian Gormally, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a Northern Irish human-rights organization, said the arrests “clearly interfere with the freedom of expression of journalists.”
The National Union of Journalists, which represents media workers in the U.K., Ireland and Europe, expressed “grave concern” at the arrests.
“Journalists throughout the U.K. and Ireland will support Trevor and Barry in any stand they take to lawfully protect their confidential sources,” NUJ Acting General-Secretary Seamus Dooley said in a statement. "It is profoundly depressing to note that, yet again, priority appears to be given to tracking down the source of journalistic stories rather than solving murders in Northern Ireland.”
Clare Rogan, a spokeswoman for the victims' families, accused British authorities of trying to cover up the state's role in the murders.
“Today’s arrests show the lengths of desperation that the British government and state forces are prepared to go to, in order to stifle the truth about what happened in Loughinisland,” she said.
With files from The Associated Press