Ackroyd claims sources victory but Trust says it will fight on

Freelance journalist Robin Ackroyd appears to have won one of the longest running legal battles over sources in UK journalism history.

Ackroyd's lawyers believe that Mersey Care NHS Trust has halted its seven and a half year legal battle to get him to disclose the source of a story about Moors murderer Ian Brady.

But in a new twist the Trust has contacted Press Gazette to say they are still pursuing the case.

In February, the Court of Appeal ruled in Ackroyd's favour saying that he did not have to reveal the identity of his confidential Brady source.

Richard Arthur, of law firm Thompsons, said: "The time for the trust to petition the House of Lords to appeal the decision has now expired. Nothing has been heard from them so as far as we are concerned that it is the end of it."

Arthur said NHS Mersey Care Trust could be ordered to pay combined costs that could "easily" run to £1m.

He said: "It's a very important case in the context of protection of journalists' sources. This case has concerned the disclosure of what was characterised as medically related information so it's extremely significant that Mr Ackroyd has obtained an order from the court saying he doesn't have to reveal his sources."

However, a spokesman for Mersey Care NHS Trust told Press Gazette they believed they could still pursue the case.

They said: "Mersey Care NHS Trust is surprised by reports today that its action against Robin Ackroyd is over as this is not the case.

"Mersey Care NHS Trust is currently seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords and has every hope of being able to do so.

"This will enable to the Trust to ask the House of Lords to uphold its earlier decision in favour of the Trusts bid to maintain the confidentiality of patients' records."

Despite the Trust's statement, Arthur insisted: "I do not see how they could appeal the decision now because the deadline has expired."

Ackroyd's legal battle began in 1999 when he used a confidential source for a Daily Mirror story about the medical treatment of Brady.

The Daily Mirror was taken all the way to the House of Lords by the NHS and eventually lost at the House of Lords in 2002, revealing Ackroyd as its source.

Mersey Care NHS Trust then began pursuing Ackroyd himself. His legal costs were met by the NUJ.

In February last year, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled in Ackroyd's favour at the High Court, saying he was "a responsible journalist whose purpose was to act in the public interest". That decision was appealed by Mersey Care to the Court of Appeal.

Ackroyd had feared that Mersey Care would pursue him all the way to the European Court – meaning his legal ordeal would stretch on for years.

He has previously said that fighting the case has effectively wrecked his journalistic career. He is now understood to be working as a travel writer.

A Press Gazette Freedom of Information request last year revealed that the NHS had spent more than £150,000 pursuing Ackroyd up to that point.

 

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