Journalists were right to protect film source, judges rule
Two journalists arrested for airing confidential material in a documentary acted in a proper manner to protect their sources, the High Court in Northern Ireland has said.
The judges also ruled that all material seized in the police raids on Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey's homes and offices must be returned.
The two Belfast journalists were detained last year over the alleged theft of a police watchdog document that appeared in their film 'No Stone Unturned'.
The documentary is about the loyalist paramilitary murders of six Catholic men in Loughinisland, Co Down, in 1994. UVF gunmen opened fire in a pub while their victims watched a World Cup match.
Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan said Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey had acted properly by protecting their sources.
He gave police until Monday to explain their claims that it will now take up to a fortnight to retrieve and return everything taken.
"I can't see that this would be an extremely arduous thing to do," the judge said.
He added that it had been unclear what potential offence was being investigated under the Official Secrets Act. It was also stressed Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey acted in accordance with National Union of Journalists (NUJ) code.
"We consider that there's no reason why, subject to suitable protections, for declining to return the material in their entirety to the journalists," the judge added.
Earlier this week, the journalists won their challenge to the legality of warrants granted as part of an inquiry into the alleged theft of confidential documents from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office.
A final order setting out a deadline for the handover is expected to be drawn up after a further hearing on Monday.