Police to pay out £875,000 after settling case over journalist arrests - Press Gazette

Police to pay out £875,000 after settling case over journalist arrests

Police have agreed to pay significant damages to two journalists inappropriately arrested over material that appeared in a documentary on a Troubles massacre.

It is understood the PSNI has also agreed to delete material it seized from Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey and they raided their homes and offices in August 2018.

PA understands the PSNI has agreed to pay out £875,000.

The total includes £600,000 to Fine Point Films, £150,000 to Birney and £125,000 to McCaffrey.

The PSNI will also have to foot both sides’ legal costs for the lengthy and complex judicial review proceedings that have been running for more than two years – a bill understood to run well into seven figures.

That expenditure is on top of the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on the botched arrest and search operation that prompted the journalists’ legal case.

The news a settlement had been reached was announced during a brief hearing at Belfast High Court on Friday morning.

McCaffrey (pictured, left) and Birney (right) were arrested over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film No Stone Unturned about a notorious loyalist massacre in Loughinisland during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Six men were shot dead while watching football in a pub in the Co Down village in the summer of 1994.

[Read more: ‘Landmark’ press freedom victory as Belfast judges back journalists in Loughinisland case]

Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan welcomed the fact a settlement had been reached between the parties.

“We congratulate the parties on finding an answer to this interesting and difficult, but also important case,” he told lawyers in Belfast High Court.

Last year, Sir Declan and other senior judges ruled search warrants used by police to search the journalists’ home and their offices at Fine Point Films had been “inappropriate”.

This resulted in the criminal probe into the journalists being discontinued.

The original police operation had been undertaken by Durham Constabulary at the request of the PSNI amid conflict of interest concerns.

In the summer, Northern Ireland’s police chief Simon Byrne issued an unreserved apology to the two journalists.

Reacting to the settlement, Birney said: “Today marks an end to the legal process I began in a police cell on August 31 2018 after being arrested and my home and offices raided by dozens of PSNI and Durham police.

“We launched a Judicial Review in the face of the PSNI’s most egregious attack on journalism to protect our journalism, our sources, and press freedom itself.

“Over the past two years, the PSNI fought our attempts to protect our journalism and sources every step of the way.

“They sought to defend their indefensible attack on press freedom right up until the judgment delivered by the Lord Chief Justice in July this year.

“We have welcomed the current Chief Constable’s apology for the actions of the PSNI. No such apology has been received by his predecessor George Hamilton, under whose leadership the PSNI arrested us.

“Journalists in this jurisdiction now need to see Simon Byrne take all steps necessary to ensure accountability for the PSNI’s despicable attack on press freedom and to assure the press that lessons have been learned.”

Amnesty International called the settlement a “huge victory for press freedom and the fundamental principle of protecting journalists’ sources”.

The human rights organisation said it planned to write to the Policing Board calling for a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the “troubling” case.

“Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey have successfully defended press freedom, not only on their own account, but on behalf of media across the UK,” said the organisation’s Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan.

He added: “The Policing Board must now take responsibility for addressing the fall-out of this debacle, which has caused huge harm to public confidence in policing in Northern Ireland, and between legal fees, court costs and damages, has cost millions of pounds to the public purse.”

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Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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