the police tell lies, they scheme and they manipulate. Every word they say, every line and sentence of every communication should be interrogated and challenged. Look behind their assertions and often you will find they are haphazard, incompetent and quite literally just making it up as they go along in the hope no one will challenge them. The emperor quite often has no clothes - Jamie Bryson
An alternative title considered for this piece was Judge Tells Thieving Bastards To Fuck Off. It would hardly have been inappropriate given the circumstances pertaining to this case where Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey had their homes raided and their journalistic material seized. Decorum prevailed over sentiment, so the more mundane option made it to the top of the page.
Nevertheless, decorum diminishes absolutely nothing about the mala fides the British police brought to this intimidation dressed up as investigation. Birney and McCaffrey called it right:
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 ... The PSNI put the cudgel in the hands of Durham constabulary and let them loose on us and on press freedom itself.
The British police, whether based in Belfast or Birmingham - it makes no difference - will lie through their teeth. The cover up surrounding the unlawful killings of 96 supporters of Liverpool FC at Hillsborough in 1989, has taught us to be wary of anything they say about everything. There they lied from day one and are still lying thirty years on. There is just nobody out there left to believe them any more. Police ranks brim with chronic liars from constable to chief constable. The courts in Belfast have loudly told them where to go and it is most welcome to hear.
I have never found cause to have much faith in courts, believing in the old Belfast barrister quip that, that if you want justice go to a brothel, if you want screwed go to a court. But on this occasion, the court upheld the principle of journalistic privilege and protected the right to free inquiry, absolutely vital to any society purporting to be democratic and transparent.
Free inquiry was so essential to the wellbeing of the project both journalists were involved in. They had investigated the loyalist massacre of 6 men in a Loughinisland bar in 1994 - in a way the lying police had not - where there was extensive state forces collusion with the gunmen. The journalists subsequently produced a documentary. No Stone Unturned. A furious PSNI, already baleful towards the ombudsman Michael Maguire, were further enraged that journalists too should get uppity. Enraged that the RUC reputation was once again in tatters, the PSNI in consort with Durham Constabulary took aggressive and invasive action. “Rather than follow up leads in the documentary, police targeted the journalists.” The British police desperately wanted to drag their probing work down a judicial cul de sac and suffocate it.
Incredibly they said they did so in order to protect those unfortunate enough to have become involved in killing people. In their view investigative journalism had lives “put in danger for merely having the misfortune of being involved in terrorist atrocities at whatever level.” Well, bless my cotton socks, and pardon me Lord for ever having thought the British police lacked compassion for loyalist killers. I am left to feel discriminated against.
This "staggering proposition” and “warped mindset” might be newly expressed but it is most certainly not a newly found empathy for people they had long officially called terrorist killers. It was always there. What wasn't there was the aggressive stupidity with which the sentiment was expressed.
The barrister for the targeted journalists concisely caught the police motive in his presentation to the court:
This was the kind of operation associated with a police state rather than with a liberal democracy that has laws to protect journalists so that they can fulfil their proper function of holding governments to account.
For the PSNI, it was a humiliating climbdown and means they might actually now have to do something to find those behind the Loughinisland killings.
Meanwhile, it is Victory to the Commentariat!