Freelance Robin Ackroyd’s seven-year battle to protect a source could continue because an NHS Trust hopes to appeal today’s Appeals Court ruling in the journalist’s favour.
Mersey Care NHS Trust is seeking permission to appeal to the House of Lords, after the Court of Appeal this morning ruled that Ackroyd did not have to give up a source.
The legal saga began in December 1999 when the Mirror revealed that Moors murderer Ian Brady was on hunger strike and being force-fed.
The trust, a successor to the authority that ran Ashworth high security mental hospital where Brady was being held, hopes to identify how the paper had obtained the confidential records.
The trust regards its efforts as a defense of the principle of maintaining the confidentiality of medical records.
In a statement issued today, the trust said it “is determined to protect patient confidentiality for every patient within its care and believes the cost and energy involved in doing so was vindicated by the House of Lords’ decision to order disclosure of both the intermediary and the source.”
In the Court of Appeal, the trust argued that its case against Ackroyd was little different to its June 2002 victory against the Mirror in the House of Lords
In that case, the Law Lords ruled that the source should be named. Ackroyd came forward as the intermediary who had supplied the records to the paper.
The Trust subsequently pursued Ackroyd directly. The reporter successfully defended an attempt to seek summary judgment against him at Court of Appeal in May 2003.
In February 2006, the Trust failed again, this time in a High Court bid to make Ackroyd give up the source.
At the time, Mr Justice Tugendhat described Ackroyd as "a responsible journalist whose purpose was to act in the public interest".
Between June 2002 and March 2006, the trust spent more than £150,000 pursuing the case against Ackroyd.
In March 2006, Press Gazette used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal that Mersey Care had paid £141,335 in solicitors' and counsels' fees and £15,000 for witness and preparation costs. It had also paid £20,000 towards Ackroyd's costs.
Because of the House of Lords appeal and a possible further appeal after that to the European Court, Ackroyd's legal ordeal could last as long as a decade.
Brady himself has come to support Ackroyd, having relinquished his right to confidentiality and offering to testify on the journalist’s behalf.