Freelance journalist Robin Ackroyd's seven-year legal fight to protect a confidential source appeared to edge closer to victory this week.
Last Wednesday he was told by his lawyers that Mersey Care NHS Trust had run out of time to file a House of Lords appeal as part of its bid to find out who leaked to Ackroyd confidential details about the medical treatment of Moors murderer Ian Brady.
- September 21, 2020
- September 15, 2020
- August 25, 2020
But the following day Mersey Care said it intended to fight on and believed it still had time to appeal.
Now it appears that the House of Lords can consider an "out of time"
application. But Ackroyd's lawyers are confident that the appeal will be rejected, finally letting Ackroyd off the hook and upholding the crucial principle that journalistic sources are protected in law.
In February, the Court of Appeal ruled in Ackroyd's favour, saying that he did not have to reveal the identity of his confidential Brady source.
Richard Arthur, of Ackroyd's law firm Thompsons, told Press Gazette: "The time for the trust to petition the House of Lords to appeal the decision has now expired. Nothing has beenheard from them so – as far as we are concerned – that it is the end of it."
Arthur said NHS Mersey Care Trust could be ordered to pay combined costs that could "easily" run to £1m.
He said: "It's a very important case in the context of protection of journalists' sources. This case has concerned the disclosure of what was characterised as medically-related information, so it's extremely significant that Mr Ackroyd has obtained an order from the court saying he doesn't have to reveal his sources."
However, a spokesman for Mersey Care NHS Trust told Press Gazette they believed they could still pursue the case.
He said: "Mersey Care NHS Trust is currently seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords and has every hope of being able to do so.
"This will enable the trust to ask the House of Lords to uphold its earlier decision in favour of the trust's bid to maintain the confidentiality of patients' records."
Ackroyd's legal battle began in 1999 when he used a confidential source for a Daily Mirror story about the medical treatment of Brady.
The Daily Mirror was taken all the way to the House of Lords by the NHS and eventually lost there in 2002,revealing Ackroyd as its source. Mersey Care NHS Trust then began pursuing Ackroyd himself. His legal costs were met by the NUJ.
In February last year, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled in Ackroyd's favour at the High Court, saying he was "a responsible journalist whose purpose was to act in the public interest".
That decision was appealed by Mersey Care to the Court of Appeal.
Ackroyd had feared that Mersey Care would pursue him all the way to the European Court – meaning his legal ordeal would stretch on for years.
He has previously said that fighting the case has effectively wrecked his journalistic career. He is now understood to be working as a travel writer.
A Press Gazette Freedom of Information request last year revealed that the NHS had spent more than £150,000 pursuing Ackroyd up to that point.