A PR man who claims he was outed by The Sunday Times as the source of a story about Nigella Lawson has had his complaint against the title rejected by the Press Complaints commission.
Richard Hillgrove complained over a Sunday Times article headlined “How the Nigella drug allegations surfaced” published on 22 December 2013.
He said it revealed him as the source in breach of Clause 14 of the Editors’ Code (confidential sources).
The article followed the end of the trial of two former assistants to Lawson during which it was alleged that she had used drugs.
Last year Lawson threatened to sue Hillgrove after he publishing a blog which claimed a photo, published on the front page of The People last July showing her being grabbed around the throat by her then husband Charles Saatchi, was “set up”.
The Sunday Times article said that after The People front page was published Hillgrove had contacted the paper with allegations about Lawson’s use of drugs and her treatment of Saatchi’s daughter.
The story identified Hillgrove as the source of a number of emails apparently from a named third party which he had forwarded to a journalist.
Hillgrove said his correspondence with the freelance journalist, who was working for The Sunday Times, were clearly marked as confidential.
He also said he had requested via email that the The Sunday Times “not write an article stating emails are from [the third party] but they will strictly be written as source/friend”.
He said the paper had agreed to this request.
The Sunday Times said it did not accept that it had agreed to treat Hillgrove as a confidential source and that any agreement reached did not relate to him, but to the un-named third party who sent the emails.
The paper said that while it has a moral obligation to protect confidential sources it also has an obligation to ensure the public is not misled.
Rejecting Hillgrove’s complaint the PCC said: “In this instance, it was relevant to the commission’s consideration that the complainant – an experienced public relations professional – was plainly familiar with the relevant conventions.
“The assurances which the complainant had sought from the newspaper were, at best, ambiguous in relation to his own position: in the correspondence exchanged before publication it was not clear to whom the request for anonymity extended, not least because the complainant had acknowledged the possibility that he might be quoted in the article.
“The exchanges could not reasonably be construed as confirmation by the newspaper that the complainant would be treated as a confidential source.”