Papers fight injunction on council rift exposé

Herts & Essex Newspapers was able to leak “confidential”
findings of an investigation into a rift between East Herts District
Council’s joint executive directors after overturning a High Court

The council tried to hide details of a report on the
feud, which cost taxpayers £120,000 to publish, on the basis of
confidentiality. The report revealed how the row had split councillors
into two camps, how the council leader had played down the problem and
how there was evidence of a “culture of bullying, blame and fear” at
the council.

The papers, including the Herts & Essex Observer
and Hertfordshire Mercury series, rejected the council’s offer of a
compromise agreement, arguing the story was in the public interest.

By the time Mr Justice Gray agreed to lift the majority of the order, the papers’

4.30pm deadline had passed but the presses were held for the story, filed by senior reporter Gordon Richardson.

editor-in-chief Colin Grant said: “The details of this report were very
much in the public interest and our readers had a right to know what
had been going on at the council.

“And the lifting of much of the
order meant we were able to spell out the details of the investigation
to the readers in the following day’s Mercury.”

Mr Justice Gray
said: “There is inevitably a particular public interest, and an
important one, in the public being informed of the functioning and,
even more importantly, malfunctioning of public authorities.”

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