Solidarity beat Interbrew in dispute over disclosure

Panter: firm on disclosure

The decision by four national newspapers and Reuters to stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" to protect sources in the Interbrew case was the key to defeating the brewing giant.

Financial Times deputy managing editor Hugh Carnegy told the Law for Journalists Conference 2002 that Interbrew tried to split the FT, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and Reuters, who were all refusing to hand over a leaked document about the brewer’s alleged takeover plans.

Interbrew was "sniffing for a break in the ranks", he said. The brewer "thought it could isolate Reuters but, to its great credit, it stood firm".

"Interbrew then singled out The Guardian in July and tried to sequestrate its assets."

When that tactic failed, Interbrew withdrew the court action and handed the matter over to the Financial Services Authority.

Carnegy said: "The most important thing was that we stood shoulder-to-shoulder and so did our legal teams when the heat came on from Interbrew."

He said another lesson of the affair was that the papers and Reuters had not taken a "softly, softly" approach and instead had gone public about the legal threats they faced. The papers published hostile comment about the company, which was a factor in Interbrew deciding to "throw in the towel".

Carnegy added that the case was expensive – costs are estimated in six figures – and time-consuming. He also said many journalists had been prompted by the case to quickly destroy documents that had been leaked to them.

Steve Panter, the Manchester Evening News crime reporter who faced jail after refusing to reveal a source, said he would have escaped his court ordeal if he had lied about how he got the story.

Panter was called as a witness in a case in which a senior police officer was accused of supplying him with the name of the main IRA suspect believed to be behind the bombing of Manchester city centre.

He denied the officer, who was acquitted, was his source, but refused to name the person who had given him the information when ordered to by a judge, risking a jail sentence. In the end, no action was taken against him.

Panter told the conference: "I told the truth. If I had lied and said the information had come in a brown envelope from an anonymous source, none of this would have happened."

He also revealed that he had discovered only three weeks ago that the Crown Prosecution Service had recommended that "no action" be taken against the senior policeman. Nevertheless, the trial went ahead.

"It is a very rare for police to go against the advice of the CPS," he said.

Panter claimed the Manchester Evening News had come under "horrendous political pressure" not to run the story about the IRA man against whom, the MEN understood, no prosecution was planned. The police at first promised a deal if the paper agreed to hold off for several weeks from publishing. Then, Panter said the police threatened to "shaft" the paper and warned they would issue a press release blaming the MEN for ruining the inquiry into the bombing if the story was published.

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