Ackroyd: defending source
Robin Ackroyd, the journalist at the centre of the Daily Mirror’s failed court battle over its coverage of the Ian Brady hunger strike story, has vowed to protect his source.
Ackroyd could now face prison if he fails to reveal the identity of the person who leaked the medical records of the Moors Murderer to him.
The freelance journalist came forward as the source of the story last week after the House of Lords ruled that the Daily Mirror must reveal its sources on a story about Brady’s hunger strike.
The article, published in December 1999, revealed verbatim extracts from Brady’s medical records from Ashworth secure hospital.
The hospital’s lawyers have now written to Ackroyd, asking him to disclose his source.
Ackroyd said: "I am prepared to fight if Ashworth decides to take me to court."
Announcing the Law Lords’ ruling, Lord Woolf said the disclosure of sources had a "chilling effect on the freedom of the press", but found that it was "necessary, proportionate and justified" in this case.
Media lawyer David Price said it was always going to be harder for a newspaper to successfully argue in court for the protection of a source if the case involves medical records. "There has got to be a balance between freedom of the press and the rights of confidentiality. The consultation between doctors and patients should not generally end up in newspapers."
But Mark Stephens, from media law firm Finers, Stephens, Innocent, said the ruling could have a serious effect on the media’s ability to use information from insider sources.
He said the Daily Mirror was probably wrong to publish the article, but the Law Lords should have stopped short of demanding the source of the story.
Newspapers, said Stephens, would still use information from inside sources but would now get it through third parties to protect themselves from court actions such as this, meaning they had less chance to check the veracity of the source.
"I believe the court has failed to take into account the wider implications of this precedent," he said.
By Martin McNamara