NHS Trust 'has wrecked my career in journalism'

By Roger Pearson

Award-winning
investigative journalist Robin Ackroyd has accused Mersey Care NHS
Trust of deliberately trying to wreck his career with its six-year
campaign to make him name his sources.

The Trust has been fighting through the courts to uncover the source
from which Ackroyd obtained medical reports on Moors murderer Ian
Brady. The reports were used in a piece in the Mirror for which Ackroyd
was paid £1,250.

Initially the Trust rounded on the Mirror in a
bid to force it to reveal its sources. Now, six years after
publication, it has returned to court seeking to force Ackroyd to say
who gave him documents from Ashworth Hospital that quoted from
confidential patient records following the killer’s hunger strike.

This
week Ackroyd told the court that during a local and national paper
career spanning 20 years, he had spent much of his time as an
investigative freelance specialising in treatment of serious offenders
in prisons and high security hospitals.

He said: “It is no
exaggeration to say that this case has wrecked my career as an
investigative journalist. This may well have been part of Ashworth’s
purpose in bringing the case against me.”

Ackroyd claimed that as
a result of the court case hanging over him for so long and the risk
that he could be ordered to disclose the identity of his sources,
former and potential sources were “naturally circumspect” and therefore
reluctant to deal with him.

“I have therefore been unable
effectively to continue the investigations I have previously carried
out into Ashworth Hospital. I have been forced to attempt to establish
a new career in a completely different area of journalism.

I am currently hoping to work as a travel writer and have started writing a travel book,” he told the judge.

However,
he said that because of this state of affairs that had been created by
the case hanging over him he had been “prevented from exposing
iniquities at Ashworth”.

He added: “As a result, I believe that
the public and indeed the Government will know much less about any
continuing problems at the hospital.

“I cannot make such
information available unless I can guarantee the protection of my
sources. The current litigation and the threat of being ordered to
reveal my sources has had a profound and chilling effect on my
journalistic work.”

Rounding on the hospital authorities for the
way they have persisted with the case for so long, he went on: “The
continued pursuit of this action by Ashworth Hospital six years after
publication of the article in the Daily Mirror smacks of vindictiveness
on their part.

“I believe that Ashworth has been motivated by a
desire to deter me and other journalists from uncovering and exposing
mismanagement of the hospital and ill-treatment of its patients.”

Ackroyd
said that as far as he was aware there has been no other leak of the
records such as he gained access to in the past six years, and that he
found it staggering in those circumstances that Ashworth continued to
assert that disclosure of the identity of his sources was necessary.

The hearing ended on Wednesday.

Judgment was reserved.

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