A UK court has upheld a reporter’s right to protect his sources in an historic freedom of the press case.
Chris Mullin, journalist and former MP, helped expose the innocence of the so-called Birmingham Six, freed from prison in 1991 when their convictions over the bomb deaths of 21 people were quashed.
He had refused to reveal notes on his source in an investigation which led to their successful appeal in the 1974 blasts at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town pubs.
Mullin had interviewed an IRA man who confessed his role in the bombings but had promised to protect his identity.
West Midlands Police had asked the court to force Mullin, 74, to disclose source material.
Judge Mark Lucraft QC, the Recorder of London, agreed with police that Mullin’s research included material that was likely to be of “substantial value” to a terrorism investigation.
But he said no matter how strong that case was, it did not override the protection of the reporter’s material under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources where their work has been carried out for a genuine public interest.
Outside the court, Mullin said: “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 … 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 of 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, most recently those of the many sub-postmasters wrongly convicted of fraud and theft. My investigation is also the main reason why the identity of three of the four bombers is known.”
The UK’s National Union of Journalists welcomed the court judgment saying the case “threatened press freedom and amounted to another attempt to criminalise the legitimate actions of journalists.”