Times legal bid removes blogger 'cloak of anonymity'

A detective constable who wrote an anonymous internet blog which criticised politicians and senior police officers today lost a bid to persuade the High Court to stop The Times from identifying him.

Lancashire Police detective Richard Horton was identified in a story which was posted on The Times website today, shortly after Mr Justice Eady handed down a judgment in which he refused the officer’s application for an order to stop the newspaper naming him or using his photograph.

The story was accompanied by a photograph of Det Con Horton, who was the author of a blog called NightJack.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the claimant, had argued that regular bloggers who communicated via under “a cloak of anonymity” would be “horrified” to think that the law would do nothing to protect them if someone did the necessary detective work and sought to unmask them.

But according to Mr Justice Eady the claimant needed to show a legally enforceable right to maintain anonymity, in the absence of a genuine breach of confidence.

Tomlinson’s main argument was that the claimant wished to be anonymous and had taken steps to preserve his anonymity, and that The Times had no justification for “unmasking” him. He had also argued that “as a general proposition that there is a public interest in preserving the anonymity of bloggers”.

The judge said: “Those who wish to hold forth to the public by this means often take steps to disguise their authorship, but it is in my judgment a significantly further step to argue, if others are able to deduce their identity, that they should be restrained by law from revealing it.”

Antony White QC, for The Times, had raised the case of Mahmood v Galloway in which MP George Galloway successfully argued that the News of the World‘s “Fake Sheikh” Mazher Mahmood had no reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of his identity even though he relied on the use of a pseudonmyn to work.

Mr Justice Eady said: “Although the claimant here is not a journalist, the function he performs via his blog is closely analogous. I see no greater justification for a reasonable expectation of anonymity in this case than in that concerning Mr Mahmood.

“I consider that the claimant fails at stage one, because blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity.”

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