Journalist and former MP Chris Mullin is fighting an order made by police under the Terrorism Act to reveal confidential sources relating to his investigations into the 1974 IRA Birmingham pub bombings.
Mullin investigated the bombings for a book and series of documentaries in the 1980s which helped secure the release of six men, wrongly convicted for the attacks, in 1991.
[UPDATE 22 March 2022: Chris Mullin wins Old Bailey fight to protect Birmingham pub bombings sources]
With the support of the National Union of Journalists Mullin will be contesting the application on the grounds that to disclose the material requested would be a fundamental breach of the principle that journalists are entitled to protect their sources.
He said: “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.”
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The principle of protecting your source and keeping your word when confidentiality is pledged is a vital one for all journalists and lies at the heart of the NUJ’s Code of Conduct. The case brought by West Midlands Police risks compromising that core principle and undermining press freedom which is why the NUJ stands four-square behind Chris and is backing this case.”
A hearing contesting the application, made under the Terrorism Act 2000, will take place at London’s central criminal court on 24/25 February.
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.”
Jack Straw was Home Secretary when the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force.
Writing in The Times he said: “The powers in the act (a continuation of ones 25 years old) on which the police now rely were there principally to prevent a terrorist using journalistic cover to evade the act’s requirements.
“Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for the government, told parliament (on June 20, 2000) that it was not ‘the intention of the government that anything in this bill should change the current balance between the freedom of expression that the British media enjoy and the responsibility to assist in combating terrorism’.
“These powers were never intended to catch a bona fide journalist. Lastly, why should we waste public money on this application? I have known Mr Mullin for 40 years. Wild horses, thumb screws and a lengthy spell in jail would not make him break a confidence.”