Police are seeking a private hearing for their bid to force journalist Chris Mullin to give up his Birmingham Six investigation sources in a “deeply worrying” development.
London’s Central Criminal Court is due to hear an application made under the Terrorism Act 2000 this week to force Mullin to hand over confidential material related to his investigation into the police miscarriage of justice following the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings.
This is despite the fact that the Home Secretary who brought the act in, Jack Straw, wrote in The Times last month: “These powers were never intended to catch a bona fide journalist.”
Police lawyers are understood to be citing last week’s Supreme Court Bloomberg versus ZXC case which found those under police investigation cannot be named in the press.
They are apparently concerned about the possible naming of a suspected bomber.
News organisations including The Guardian, Daily Mail and Times are expected to challenge the police secrecy bid.
Executive director of the Society of Editors Dawn Alford said: “The decision to move to ban reporters from Friday’s hearing at the Old Bailey is deeply worrying given the immense public interest in Mullin’s upcoming challenge. As warned by the Society following last week’s Bloomberg Supreme Court ruling, legitimate public interest journalism is at risk of going unreported if privacy considerations continue to take precedent over the public’s right to know.
“Not only is it essential that the actions of the police in this case are open to public scrutiny, but the case also threatens one of the most important and fundamental principles of journalism codes of conduct. At a time when the government is currently consulting on enabling statutory provisions for the protection of journalists’ sources in a Bill of Rights, the decision by West Midlands Police to pursue this order against Mullin in pursuit of his sources is a grave threat to press freedom.
“What is even more worrying than the decision to use anti-terrorism powers to pressure a journalist is the prospect that the challenge may take place behind closed doors without journalistic scrutiny. It is essential on behalf of all reporters and their future ability to protect their sources and enable public interest journalism to continue that this challenge is held in public.”
Mullin said last month: “If West Midlands Police had carried out a proper investigation after the bombings, instead of framing the first half-dozen people unlucky enough to fall into their hands, they might have caught the real perpetrators in the first place.
“It is beyond irony. They appear to have gone for the guy who blew the whistle.”
A spokesperson for West Midlands Police said: “West Midlands Police remains committed to bringing to justice those responsible for the 1974 Birmingham Pub bombings atrocity and continues to pursue all active lines of enquiry.
“We can confirm that we have commenced proceedings for a production order application against Mr Christopher Mullin in respect of documents he may possess which could assist in this investigation. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”