PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne apologizes unreservedly to Loughinisland journalists for ‘distress and upset’ of wrongful searches

Posted By: July 16, 2020

Maeve Connolly.Irish News. Belfast.Thursday, July 16, 2020
The PSNI Chief Constable has apologised to Loughinisland journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney after the Court of Appeal ruled that police had wrongly obtained warrants to search their homes and offices.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne today offered “an unreserved apology” to the investigative journalists and their families “for the distress and upset caused by the execution of search warrants”.
He said he accepted the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice that the search warrants were unlawful.
The journalists were arrested and their properties searched on August 31 2018 over the alleged theft of a police ombudsman document that appeared in their Emmy nominated documentary No Stone Unturned about the loyalist massacre of six men in a Loughinisland bar in 1994.
A panel of judges last week ruled that the hearing to obtain the warrants had fallen “woefully short” of the standard required to ensure it was fair, in a judgement that was seen as a victory for press freedom. The criminal investigation into the journalists was dropped last year.
Today PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne offered “an unreserved apology” to the men and their families “for the distress and upset caused by the execution of search warrants at your home and business premises on 31 August 2018”.
“While the searches were planned and conducted at the direction of officers from Durham Constabulary, those officers were acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in an external capacity and I fully accept the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice that the search warrants were unlawful.
“I can assure you that the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be reviewing all of the findings of the judgement to ensure that all appropriate learning is taken.”
The raids were carried out by detectives from Durham Constabulary, supported by PSNI officers, and they seized computer equipment, files, phones, cameras and notebooks as well as copying information from a server.
All the confiscated material has been returned but backed up copies have been retained on the PSNI system.
The PSNI and the journalists’ legal teams are to enter into meditation over the deletion of the material.
The chief constable added: “I have already notified your legal representatives that I am keen to resolve all outstanding matters through a process of meditation in order to bring this matter to a  conclusion.”
Respondng to the apology, Barry McCaffrey said while he welcomed the chief constable’s words “it’s unfortunate that it has taken the PSNI 685 days to do the right thing and finally apologize since they raided our homes at 7am on August 31 2018”.
He questioned who would be held accountable and said the PSNI must focus its efforts on catching the gunmen who shot six men dead in the Heights Bar in Loughinisland.
“The chief constable says the PSNI will look at what lessons need to be learned. I sincerely hope it does. I think it’s obvious that this was a lesson on how not to do policing in a democratic society. This was a deliberate and direct attack on press freedom.
“On the morning of our arrest the police publicly accused us of having put peoples’ lives at risk. This was an outrageous slur on our personal and professional reputations. The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan made it clear in his judgement that this was completely untrue and without foundation. We have had to live for the last two years with that highly damaging slur hanging over our heads. Who in the PSNI is going to be held to account?”
Referring to the material still retained by the PSNI Mr. McCaffrey added: “While I welcome the chief constable’s apology I feel this sorry chapter in bad policing can not be properly resolved until this issue of data protection is dealt with fully.
“The police had a job to do, to catch the Loughinisland killers, today I hope they now finally get around to doing this.”