Health trust in fresh bid to make Ackroyd name source

A crucial and long-running legal battle over a journalist's rights to protect his sources has returned to court yet again.

Mersey Care NHS Trust is once again seeking a court order to force investigative journalist Robin Ackroyd to reveal the confidential source behind a leaked medical report from Ashworth Hospital on Moors murderer Ian Brady.

Since Ackroyd's work was published in the Daily Mirror in 2000, the NHS Trust has left no stone unturned in its fight to discover who leaked the documents. Over the past six years, legal bills believed to top £1 million have been run up in the dispute.

Initially, the NHS trust took action against Mirror publishers MGN, but 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.

But the case has now returned to the Appeal Court, headed by Master of the Roles Sir Anthony Clarke. 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 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.

They additionally claimed that the judge failed to give sufficient weight to the "cloud of suspicion" remaining at Ashworth.

Opening the case for the Trust, 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".

A judgment based on this week's hearing is likely to be reserved, to be given in writing at a later stage.

Ackroyd 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, 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 had persisted with the case for so long, he said: "The continued pursuit of this action by Ashworth Hospital six years after publication smacks of vindictiveness on their part."

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