Murney had faced a number of charges related to taking photographs of PSNI personnel during stop and search operations, public protests, and other incidents.
He had been detained in Maghaberry prison for the past 14 months. Earlier today all charges were dropped.
Until his arrest and imprisonment in 2012, Stephen Murney held the position of local Public Relations Officer for the socialist republican political group éirígí in the Newry and Mourne area. On the morning of his birthday, November 28, 2012 his home was raided by armed police. He was arrested and brought to high security interrogation in Antrim.
Later he was charged with:
- Collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists.
- Distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists
- Having articles likely to be of use to terrorists
– these offences were based on his Facebook page in which he had albums covering collated historical photographs of civil rights and political marches going back to the 1960s plus contemporary photographs, some his own, reporting on Éirígí’s demonstrations and what he claimed as others taken ‘in order to record, document and publicise PSNI misuse of their powers’.
14 months later the trial began. During the trial there were some exchanges that left the ‘terrorism’ charges looking ludicrous.
Murney explained his job as Eirigi’s Newry PRO included photographing events in the city relating to peaceful protests. He told trial judge Corinne Philpott QC that after events, he would prepare press releases and post material on the Eirigi website and his Facebook page.
Judge Philpott asked: “Could you have blanked out their faces?”
Murney replied: “I am not very good on the technical side of things. The technical side of things would not be my strong point.”
Judge Philpott QC: “Are you going to remain as a PRO?”
Judge Philpott: “Are you going to learn how to pixellate faces?”
He added: “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”
Speaking after his acquittal and release, Stephen Murney said,
“My imprisonment for the past 14 months was as a direct result of my political views and my membership of éirígí – an open and legitimate political party. Those charges, of which I have been found to be innocent, were brought against me by the PSNI who objected to fact that I recorded, documented and publicised PSNI personnel abusing the human and civil rights of citizens in the Newry area. Even though it was clear from the very outset that these charges were completely without substance, both the PSNI and prosecution service have persisted with a legalised charade which resulted in my imprisonment from December 2012. There is no other way of describing that charade except as ‘internment by remand’. “I intend to continue with my activism on behalf of éirígí.”
Éirígí’s general secretary, Breandán Mac Cionnaith commented:
“This case is strongly reminiscent of the type of charges brought by RUC against political activists and others under the old and internationally discredited Special Powers Act. Had the PSNI and prosecution service succeeded in this case, I have no doubt that it would have led to the arrests of other political activists and to possible gagging orders on political publications as a first step towards an outright ban on éirígí as a political party.”
In her ruling, Judge Corrinne Philpott said:
“There is no evidence before this court that Éirígí supports violence, or has argued for violent action to be taken against the police, or that the organisation is directly linked to those that support terrorist activity.
The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused possessed information likely to be of use to terrorists and that he had no reasonable excuse for his actions.
In the view of this court, the prosecution have not discharged that burden to the requisite standard, that is beyond reasonable doubt, and therefore the accused is entitled to an acquittal on all counts.”