FREELANCE Robin Ackroyd went back to court on 17 January to defend his right to protect his sources. The outcome will have a major effect on all journalists in the UK.
As the Freelance went to press Robin was waiting to hear whether Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting alone, would grant Merseycare NHS Trust an order compelling him to name a source. The hearing in the High Court - the sixth major airing of this case - lasted six and a half days.
Robin Ackroyd on the trail of Genghis Khan in Mongolia, researching a book
In December 1999 the Daily Mirror ran a report on how a patient, convicted murderer Ian Brady, was moved from one ward to another by what Ashworth Special Hospital management called a "care and responsibility team". "But in English what happened," Robin told a London Freelance Branch meeting in December 2002, was that "a crew in full riot gear, two with riot shields, went into his room. He was strip-searched. He ended up with a fractured wrist."
Brady was back in the news at the time because of his hunger strike - he later went to court himself arguing his "right to die", and lost. The reported treatment was put forward as an explanation for the hunger strike.
Ashworth Hospital demanded that the Mirror reveal its source. That went from the High Court to the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords, which ruled in June 2002 that the source must be disclosed.
Then Robin - who had not been named in the 1999 story - came forward as the Mirror's source, and re-stated: "I do not betray my sources." The hospital went to the High Court to argue that the ruling against the Mirror should apply to Robin, without taking any further evidence. It won there, but on 16 May 2002 lost in the Court of Appeal, where Lord Justice Ward said "Judges should be vigilant to protect the freedom of the press... Mr Ackroyd presents himself as a serious investigation journalist... The way in which the hospital has managed its patients was a matter of public interest."
The Trust then launched this case against Robin. Vincent Nelson QC argued that patient confidentiality must be paramount, and that it was necessary to identify the source to take action against them.
Gavin Millar QC argued for Robin that the disclosure of the information by the source was an act of expression within the Article 10 right to freedom of expression in the European Convention on Human Rights, "justified in the public interest". Whoever the source was had "only disclosed what they felt they had to".
Among the matters not heard in the case against the Mirror were a new statement from Brady that he had no objection to the information being disclosed, and testimony that the source had not been paid. Mr Justice Tugendhat reserved judgement to a later date.
In a bizarre twist, the timing of which had many scratching their heads, on 28 January the Mirror ran a story, nothing to do with Robin Ackroyd and apparently originating in a leak of security infomation from Ashworth Hospital, alleging an attempt to smuggle drugs in to Brady.
- On 11 January France's Justice Minister announced plans to legislate to strenghten the rights of whistleblowers to anonymity and of journalists to protect them.