Top officers say Loughinisland docs theft probe ‘concluding’

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton
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The investigation into the alleged theft/leaking of sensitive documents from the Office of the Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland will continue to assess lines of enquiry, but without two journalists as suspects, police have said.

It was announced on Monday evening that the Durham Constabulary investigation of Loughinisland massacre film makers Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, which was being carried out on behalf of the PSNI, had been dropped.

Earlier on Monday the High Court heard that the two journalists can now reclaim all material seized during the police searches as the search warrants have been quashed.

In a statement on Monday evening, Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey told the Press Association: “Tonight, our first thoughts are with the Loughinisland families. The attack on us was an attack on them. We call on the PSNI and Durham to apologise to them for putting them through this unlawful charade.

“The police have dropped the case for one reason only: Finally, they accept that by arresting us and raiding our homes and offices, they were the ones that acted unlawfully.”

Soon afterwards, the chief constables of both the Durham Constabulary and the PSNI issued statements saying their officers were “statutorily obliged” to investigate such a serious matter, but that they never wished to cause upset to the Loughiniland families.

Durham Constabulary’s chief constable Mike Barton said: “The PSNI asked Durham Constabulary to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged theft or unlawful leaking of sensitive documents from the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

“As part of that investigation, two men were arrested in August 2018 and search warrants were obtained from the Count Court to search for and seize journalistic material.

“Following the outcome of last week’s Judicial Review, a decision has now been taken not to progress the investigation into those two individuals and both will be immediately released from police bail.

“We are in the process of concluding what has been a highly complex investigation, with some final lines of inquiry still to be assessed. These lines of inquiry do not include the journalists, Mr Birney or Mr McCaffrey, as suspects in the investigation.”

Mr Barton added: “At all times, my officers have acted in good faith, within the law and followed due process. The warrant application was originally submitted to and approved by a county court judge. We do, however, accept and respect the decision of the High Court last week.

“We plan to produce a final report to the chief constable of the PSNI outlining all of our findings.”

In response PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said: “In 2017, PSNI became aware of an alleged theft and/or unlawful leaking of sensitive documents relating to the Loughinisland Investigation from the Office of the Police Ombudsman. To ensure independence and address any conflict of interest I asked Durham Constabulary to conduct the investigation.

“I am grateful to Durham Constabulary and to Chief Constable Mike Barton for the work they have conducted on our behalf in this sensitive investigation. I have always accepted the autonomy of Chief Constable Barton’s inquiry and I fully concur with his decision not to progress the investigation into the two journalists Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey.

“Throughout the period of this investigation, the horror of what happened in Loughinisland has never been far from any of our thoughts. The perpetrators of that crime have never been brought to justice and that is a matter of huge regret for policing.”

Mr Hamilton said the police investigation into who the murder the six innocent men in the Heights Bar in 1994 remains open, but said progress is dependent on new information.

“There are people out there who know what happened. I would appeal to them to come forward and make a statement that will help us finally bring justice to the families of the victims,” he said.

“I am aware that the investigation over the last year has caused concern for families who have already suffered so much. That is something none of us would ever have wished to do.

“However, as a police service, the suspected theft or unlawful leaking of any sensitive documents containing information that may endanger life is a serious matter which we are statutorily obliged to investigate.”

The PSNI chief constable added: “Recognising the sensitivities, we asked an independent Police Service to conduct the investigation. The clarity provided by last week’s hearing has now brought a significant part of that investigation to a conclusion.

“I await the final report from Durham on this complex investigation.”