Lords refuse NHS trust's appeal in Robin Ackroyd source protection case

Freelance journalist Robin Ackroyd’s seven-year legal fight to protect a confidential source appears to have finally ended in victory.

The House of Lords today today refused to grant Mersey Care NHS Trust leave to appeal the case it has pursued against Ackroyd in a bid to reveal who leaked confidential details about the medical treatment of Moors murderer Ian Brady to the reporter.

The case, which began after the Daily Mirror published a story in 1999, pitted the Trust’s interest in maintaining the confidentiality of patient records with a journalists’ need to protect confidential sources.

The Mirror Group was taken all the way to the House of Lords by the NHS and lost there in 2002, at which point Ackroyd stepped forward as the author of the story. At this point, Mersey Care NHS Trust then began pursuing Ackroyd himself.

In February 2006, 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”.

This year, the Court of Appeal ruled in Ackroyd’s favour, saying that he did not have to reveal the identity of his source.

Two months later, it appeared that the case had finally ended when it appeared the Trust had run out of time to file an appeal to the law Lords. However, the trust did file for permission to appeal, which has now been refused.

Ackoyd’s legal costs were met by the National Union of Journalists.

“We are delighted that this case can finally be closed,” said NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear. “The fundamental point of principle – that there is a vital public interest in upholding journalists’ right not to reveal their sources – has been maintained.

“Robin has showed huge courage in standing true to this principle. We all owe him an immense debt of gratitude – all journalists are in a stronger and safer position because of the brave stand he has taken.”

In a statement, the trust said it was disappointed in the decision. It said that it had persued the action against Ackroyd ‘to protect one of the key principles of the NHS – the right of every patient to be treated on a confidential basis.”

Mersey Care’s medical director, Dr David Fearnley, said: “There should be no doubt that this means, for the first time since 1948 when the NHS was set up, confidential medical information about patients appears to be being put at risk.

‘The ruling in this case has set a two tier standard for medical records – what the High Court termed intimate material and non-intimate material. It appears the court believes only the so called intimate material is sufficiently confidential to compel a journalist to disclose his source.

‘So far as I and my colleagues are concerned every aspect of a patient’s medical record is relevant to the care and treatment that person receives and might receive in the future.”

Ackroyd was not immediately available for comment.

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