Police agree to delete data wrongly seized from journalists and pay substantial damages
It has been one of my life’s privileges to have represented the victims and survivors of the Loughinisland atrocity since 2005.
Their quiet, patient but dedicated tenacity has transformed the historical record of the wicked crime inflicted upon them. That the truth was excavated through their patient dignity, it was part of their mission, that the world know the details of the truth of what had happened to them, the atrocity perpetrated by the state guided UVF and covered up by the RUC.
From 2012 to 2017 the families invested their most cherished commodity with Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, their painful experience and their journey towards justice. They wanted their truth to be documented and made known to the world.
The award-winning film, No Stone Unturned, bore testament to their life experience, the collusion that infected the murder of their loved ones before and after the atrocity. They wanted the dignity denied to their loved ones in death to be restored to their memory. The documentary film achieved this. The families are forever grateful that their truth was recorded so sensitively and courageously and was made available for the world to see.
On 31st August 2018, the truth was arrested.
The darkness which visited their lives in 1994, returned to haunt their hard worn truth 24 years later.
“Real journalists,” said John Pilger, “are agents of the people”. Trevor and Barry were advocates for those murdered in 1994, whose voice was taken from them by agents of the State. The film spoke truth to power, and is a testament to the power of investigative journalism, as disinfectant, shining light on the darkness of the State’s secret of collusion.
That the State reacted in character, by sending dozens of armed officers to conduct dawn raids, on a false farce of a fabricated investigation pursuing a lie, that the truth was a breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Armed police arresting journalists doesn’t augur well for the search for truth in examining the legacy of our troubled past. A vital element in any free and open society is accountability, and the events of 31st August 2018 do not encourage us to believe anybody who is “watching the watchmen” will be respected but rather that they will be attacked. This cannot happen again.
The judgement of the most senior court in our jurisdiction represents an international landmark decision for freedom of the press. The damages paid today are unprecedented. I cannot recall this level of damages ever having been paid by the police for unlawful arrest. The unprecedented levels of compensation that are being paid underpin the seriousness of any attack upon the free press. As a result of this case the law is now clear: a line has been drawn and in the future there will never be another dawn raid on honest journalists who report the truth about state wrongdoing.
Niall Murphy, Solicitor-Advocate, Partner