Court Rules Hero Journalist Can Protect His Sources; he Exposed ‘Serious Justice System Failings’

By Mathew Carr

March 22, 2022 — At a hearing at London’s Old Bailey today West Midlands Police failed in their legal bid to force hero journalist Chris Mullin to reveal the source for his investigations, National Union of Journalists reports.

Wikipedia: The Birmingham Six were six Irishmen who were each sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 following their false convictions for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings. Their convictions were declared unsafe and unsatisfactory and quashed by the Court of Appeal on 14 March 1991. The six men were later awarded financial compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

Mullin investigated the case for Granada TV‘s World in Action series. In 1985, the first of several World in Action programmes casting doubt on the men’s convictions was broadcast. In 1986, Mullin’s book, Error of Judgment: The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings, set out a detailed case supporting the men’s claims that they were innocent.

It included his claim to have met some of those who were actually responsible for the bombings.

The Home SecretaryDouglas Hurd, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal and they walked free in 1991.

Mullins didn’t have to reveal his sources, the court ruled today (see below)…even though the losing side (the police) wanting his information argued material of this nature with a confession to the murder of 21 people is such that there is an overriding public interest that outweighs any protection of journalistic sources.

This is the argument that won:

  1. The journalism in issue was of the highest public interest value exposing serious failings on the part of the criminal justice system which resulted in the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of six innocent men.

(From judgement below)

Unedited from NUJ: Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary welcomed the outcome and paid tribute to Chris Mullin:

“This judgment is a hopeful beacon at a time when we rely more than ever on dependable news, despite journalists facing mounting legal challenges. Few reporters have been more courageous and dogged than Chris Mullin, nor have they been so spectacularly vindicated.

“This case threatened press freedom and amounted to another attempt to criminalise the legitimate actions of journalists. In refusing this production order, the judge has recognised the principle that the NUJ will always defend – that protecting sources underpins every journalist’s ability to report.

“I hope that West Midlands Police now chooses to devote its many powers to amassing sufficient credible evidence to secure a conviction for those terrible bombings. 

Chris Mullin said outside the Old Bailey: 

“I am grateful to Judge Lucraft for his decision.  The right of a journalist to protect his or her sources is fundamental to a free press in a democracy. 

“My actions in this case were overwhelmingly in the public interest. They led to the release of six innocent men after 17 years in prison, the winding up of the notorious West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad and the quashing of a further 30 or so wrongful convictions.

“This case also resulted in the setting up a Royal Commission which, among other reforms, led to the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the quashing of another 500 or more wrongful convictions.  My investigation is also the main reason why the identity of three of the four bombers is known. 

“Finally, I am grateful to the National Union of Journalists for their unswerving support and also to my legal representatives, Louis Charalambous and Gavin Millar QC.”

Louis Charalambous of Simons Muirhead Burton said:

 “This is a landmark freedom of expression decision which properly recognises the public interest in Chris Mullin’s journalism which led to the release of the Birmingham Six. If a confidential source cannot rely on a journalist’s promise of lifelong protection, then these investigations will never see the light of day.”

Here is the judgement (from NUJ)

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

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