NHS bosses have spent at least £300,000 trying to identify the source of a freelance journalist’s story about Moors murderer Ian Brady. And the final bill could top £1 million.
Figures disclosed under the freedom of information act (FOIA) show that Mersey care NHS trust, has paid at least £300,000 so far in a series of legal battles over its hunt for the confidential sources of Robin Ackroyd.
The disclosure comes after the court of appeal ruled in February that Ackroyd should not have to reveal his confidential sources.
Its judgement said that there was “no pressing social need” for the sources to be identified. The master of the rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, said that forcing identification “would not be proportionate to the pursuit of the hospital’s legitimate aim to seek redress against the source, given the vital public interest in the protection of a journalist's source.”
He said that if the case had not lasted so long “an enormous amount of money and, perhaps more significantly, energy on the part of the hospital would have been saved and better directed to other activities.”
With the trust facing the prospect of having to pay another £500,000 of Ackroyd’s costs, and as it attempts to make a further appeal to the house of lords, it could ultimately run up a legal bill that breaks the £1 million pound mark.
Ackroyd provided extracts from Brady’s medical records to the Daily Mirror, which published them in an article about “the Moors murderer's hunger strike” in 1999. Brady is held at the Ashworth hospital, which is part of Mersey care NHS trust.
Initially, the legal action was aimed at the Daily Mirror. The trust’s legal bill for its court battles with the newspaper totalled a shade under £200,000. It secured an order against the Daily Mirror to name its source, and recovered £173,000 costs from the newspaper, leaving it with an actual cost of just under £25,000.
But this is a tiny part of its legal bill. Ackroyd identified himself as the freelance journalist who had supplied the material, and next, the trust pursued him. The national union of journalists (NUJ) has backed Ackroyd as he has fought the trust’s legal action against him.
Ackroyd said: “I said long ago that I did not want a legal battle but would fight if Ashworth took me to court. I have repeatedly made very clear my position about the protection of confidential journalistic sources.”
Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, said: “Robin Ackroyd – and all journalists – can rest assured that they will not be forced to reveal their sources.”
“The hundreds of thousands of pounds that Mer-sey care NHS trust poured into pursuing Robin through the courts would have been far better spent on treating the people within their care.”
The trust and Ackroyd have been locked in a series of court battles over whether he should be ordered to disclose his confidential sources.
The figures supplied by the trust under FOIA show that it ran up £285,000 costs pursuing Ackroyd. It was also ordered to pay £20,000 of his costs even before the court of appeal judgement.
The court of appeal ordered the trust to pay Ackroyd’s costs, which the NUJ estimates total £500,000, although this figure is yet to be decided.
Even before the Court of Appeal judgement, the trust had anticipated that it would have another £300,000 to pay. Following the judgement, the trust has refused to say how much it estimates the final bill will be.
Another version of this article first appeared in Journalist, the NUJ’s magazine for its members.
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