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Journalism and the right to protect sources from state snooping, face another test on Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 February when journalists and NUJ members Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey will attend an open court hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in London about claims they were targeted by the UK authorities using covert surveillance. The hearing is part of a landmark case that will test both the legal safeguards for all journalists and the extent of accountability and transparency available.

Birney and McCaffrey were falsely arrested in 2018 and their homes were raided under search warrants during a probe by Durham Constabulary, supported by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The police action took place following the journalists’ work on a film documentary, No stone unturned, which exposed police failures to investigate the paramilitary murder of six innocent people in Northern Ireland.A Judicial Review in 2019 resulted in an apology from both police forces. A settlement in the Belfast’s High Court followed in late 2020.

The UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal is an independent judicial body that provides the right of redress to anyone who believes they have been the victim of unlawful action by public authorities using covert intrusive techniques. The tribunal is looking into claims the phones of the two Belfast journalists were secretly monitored by UK authorities.

Trevor Birney said: “What we now understand is that the police had a covert surveillance operation on Barry and me. But does that mean our homes were compromised by police? Does it mean they were following us in our cars? Does it mean they have bugged my phone? The police must come clean.”

Barry McCaffrey said: “We are grateful the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has been working on our case for more than three years. We want to find out what has been going on in secret and the hearings next week should be of concern to all journalists. The use of covert powers by the police represents an attack on press freedom and we hope the tribunal will shed light on police action around the time of our film.”

Supporters will attend the court on both days at 9.15am. The hearing will take place at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, London, WC2A 2LL.

Additional background:

Policing Board ‘must launch inquiry into PSNI surveillance of journalists’

Tribunal investigates complaint that journalists’ phones were unlawfully monitored