A crucial and long running legal battle over a journalist’s rights to protect his sources returned to court yet again today. Over the past six years legal bills believed to top £1 million have been run up in the dispute.
The battle is over the rights of award winning investigative journalist, Robin Ackroyd, to protect the sources from which he obtained a confidential medial report from Ashworth Hospital on Moors murderer Ian Brady.
Ackroyd was paid £1,250 for his role but since the story was published in the Mirror Mersey Care NHS Trust has left no stone unturned in its fight to discover who leaked the documents.
Initially its action was against Mirror publishers MGN and then it turned its attention to Ackroyd pursuing him in a way which was branded by Ackroyd as “vindictive.”
In January this year one of the country’s top judges who specialises in media law cases threw out the Trust’s claim for an order forcing Ackroyd to disclose his source.
Today though the case returned to the Appeal Court headed by Master of the Roles Sir Anthony Clarke where lawyers for the Trust sought to have the January decision overturned and are again seeking an order for disclose of the source.
In lengthy written submissions to the court the Trust argues that the judge was wrong in his approach to a number of aspects of the case.
They say among other things that he was wrong to find that the data disclosed was no longer “high in the range of sensitivity” or “intimate or highly sensitive.”
They also argued that the judge was wrong in the approach he took to a finding that the extent of the disclosure had been more limited than previously thought.
And they claim that in having found that there had been “wrong doing” in which Ackroyd was “mixed up” he was again wrong in the view went on to take about the disclosure.
They additionally claimed that the judge failed to give sufficient weight to the “cloud of suspicion” remaining at Ashworth as a result of what had happened.
Opening the case for the Trust though Vincent Nelson QC said the main thrust of the appeal argument was that the judge was “wrong to conclude there was no longer a pressing social need for disclosure of the source.”
The hearing is expected to end tomorrow after which judgment is likely to be reserved to be given in writing at a later stage. Ackroyd, who was not in court today, has spent more than 20 years in local and national paper journalism, much of this time as an investigative freelance specialising in treatment of serious offenders in prisons and high security hospitals.
At the hearing in January, however, he told the judge that his career had effectively been “wrecked” by the action taken against him.
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 exposiing mismanagement of the hospital and ill treatment of its patients.”