In 2018, investigative journalists and NUJ members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested for allegedly stealing a confidential report from the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. The document in question had been leaked to them by an anonymous source, and it contained investigative material about the killing of six men in Loughinisland, Northern Ireland, in 1994 – including proof of an existing connection between the gunmen and the police. The two journalists were questioned for 14 hours, and their homes were raided. On 31st May 2019, the High Court in Belfast quashed the warrants against them. On 10 July 2020, the court released a judgment where it set out the reasons.
According to the report, a search warrant against Birney and McCaffrey was granted by Judge Rafferty in 2018 as part of an investigation called "Operation Yurta." However, under the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) legislation, only production orders can be issued against journalists.
The judge has now found that the journalists were only rightfully protecting their sources, and concluded that : "We see no overriding requirement in the public interest which could have justified an interference with the protection of journalistic sources in this case."
The NUJ celebrated the release of this judgment as a victory for the union's ethical code of conduct and for all journalists who protect their sources against pressures. https://twitter.com/NUJofficial/status/1281608726428950537
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "Journalists must not be treated as criminals, they must not have their homes and offices raided, simply for doing their jobs. This judgment comes at a time when journalism is in crisis and our society is in turmoil. This judgment is good news for democracy and it sends a clear signal to the authorities and to all those working to serve the public interest with quality, investigative journalism. The union would like to thank everyone who offered their support for this campaign and offered vital solidarity to Barry and Trevor who have been put through an unnecessary and traumatic ordeal."
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "It is very encouraging to hear that the Court has recognised and defended journalism's professional values against intimidation and abuse of the law. With its decision, the Court has reaffirmed that the protection of journalists' source is at the heart of journalism."