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No Stone Unturned journalists settle with police for £875k

AFTER A TWO-YEAR legal battle, film-makers Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in late November reached a settlement with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The settlement arises from their award-winning 2017 documentary No Stone Unturned. Trevor and Barry, both NUJ members, were arrested in August 2018, when their homes and the Fine Point Films offices were raided by "dozens" of PSNI and Durham Constabulary officers.

The warrants for their arrests were subsequently quashed by a Belfast appeals court judge. PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne later apologised to Trevor and Barry, although no such apology was received from his predecessor George Hamilton, in post at the time of the arrests.

According to PA news agency, a total of £875,000 is to be paid out - £150,000 to Trevor and £125,000 to Barry, with £600,000 to Fine Point Films, which covered legal costs for the two-year battle. The settlement includes an agreed timetable for copies of data seized in the raid and held by PSNI to be deleted.

No Stone Unturned looked into the 1994 Loughinisland murders, a massacre perpetrated by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). It shot six men dead while they were watching Ireland in a World Cup match on TV in a pub in the County Down village of Loughinisland. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders.

In 2016 the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office concluded there had been collusion between police and the UVF and that the police investigation into the murders had been "undermined". (The police force was at the time called the Royal Ulster Constabulary; in 2001 it was renamed the PSNI in connection with the peace process.)

The documentary named the main suspects - one of whom was a British solider. It claimed that one of the killers was an informer.

The search warrants for the raids on Fine Point Films and Trevor and Barrys' houses were obtained as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office. Durham Constabulary joined in that investigation because of a potential PSNI conflict of interest. In July, a Belfast court ruled that the warrants were "inappropriate" and that they had been "wrongly obtained". Judges could identify "no grounds" for the issuing of those warrants.

Congratulating Trevor and Barry on their settlement, NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet and NUJ Assistant General Secretary Seamus Dooley in a joint statement said: "This is a great day for journalism and for all who care for human rights." They added that Trevor and Barry "uncovered the truth about human rights abuses in Northern Ireland, they took a brave stance to defend themselves and they paid a heavy personal price for doing so."

"As a union we are proud of our collective efforts in this campaign and we have supported Trevor and Barry at every step. We knew from the start there were grave implications if we did not win this case. So today is a good day; for every NUJ member and for journalism in the UK and Ireland. The NUJ is proud to have invested in the legal battle and in the public campaign in support of Barry and Trevor."

Trevor described the police forces' actions as unlawful, adding that "the PSNI fought our attempts to protect our journalism and sources every step of the way."

Barry said: "We fought this case to protect press freedom and the right for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs, free from state persecution and threat… It is deeply disturbing that we have had to drag police kicking and screaming through endless court hearings… Millions of pounds of taxpayers money was wasted on our arrests and the PSNI's utterly futile legal challenge to defend their unlawful actions."

Journalists in Northern Ireland face continuing threats while going about their work. At around the time of Trevor and Barry's settlement, two Sunday World journalists were made aware of death threats to them made by criminals and loyalist paramilitaries.