A journalist who investigated the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings will not have to hand over his notes to police after they lost a legal attempt to force him to reveal his sources.
Chris Mullin, 74, has contested a request by West Midlands Police to require him to release source material dating back to his investigation in 1985 and 1986.
Speaking after a judge at the Old Bailey ruled that he will not have to hand over the material, Mullin said he is “grateful” for the decision, saying the right of journalists to protect sources is “fundamental to a free press in a democracy.” “.
In his book, Error Of Judgment, and a series of documentaries, Mullin, a former MP and minister, helped expose one of the worst miscarriages of justice, which led to the release of the Birmingham Six after their convictions were overturned in 1991.
Twenty-one people were killed in the bomb attack on two Birmingham pubs on November 21, 1974.
Commenting on the ruling, Julie Hambleton, who leads the Justice 4 the 21 campaign group and whose older sister, Maxine, was killed in the attacks, said: “We had no expectations.
“To be completely honest, we didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t think about it.”
West Midlands Police used the Terrorism Act to file the production order application.
Delivering his ruling on Tuesday morning, London Register Judge Mark Lucraft said: “I refused to grant the requested production order.”
He said that there were three issues that the court had to determine.
The first was whether Mr. Mullin had the material in his possession and, if so, what material he did have.
The judge wrote: “On this subject, I find that CM (Chris Mullin) has material in his possession, custody, or power that falls within the wording of the production order as refined in the course of the hearing.”
If a confidential source cannot trust a journalist’s promise of lifetime protection, then these investigations will never see the light of day.
Lawyer Luis Charalambous
The second question was whether there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the material is likely to have substantial value, either alone or together with other material, to a terrorist investigation.”
The judge wrote: “On this subject, I find that the condition is made.”
He said the third question was whether there are “reasonable grounds to believe that it is in the public interest for the material to be produced, or that access to it should be allowed in the light of the benefit likely to accrue from a terrorist investigation if it is obtained already.” the circumstances in which CM has the material in its possession, custody or power”.
The judge continued: “Indeed, is there a clear and convincing case that there is an overriding public interest that could override the strong CM Article 10 right to protect your confidential news source along with the Court considering its discretion?
“In this issue I do not find a superior public interest to displace the right to protection of the journalistic source. I refused to grant the requested production order.”
Speaking after the ruling was delivered, Mr. Mullin said: “I am grateful to Judge Lucraft for his decision.
“The right of a journalist to protect their 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 liquidation of the notorious West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad and the overturning of some 30 more wrongful convictions.
“This case also resulted in the creation of a Royal Commission which, among other reforms, led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the overturning of another 500 or more wrongful convictions.
“My investigation is also the main reason why the identity of three of the four attackers is known.
“Finally, I thank the National Union of Journalists for their unconditional support and also my legal representatives, Louis Charalambous and Gavin Millar QC.”
Mullin’s attorney called the sentence a “milestone” for free speech.
Louis Charalambous of Simons Muirhead Burton said: “This is a landmark free speech decision that properly recognizes the public interest in Chris Mullin’s journalism that led to the launch of the Birmingham Six.
“If a confidential source can’t trust a journalist’s promise of lifetime protection, these investigations will never see the light of day.”
West Midlands Police remain committed to bringing to justice those responsible for the murder of 21 innocent victims
Assistant Police Chief Matt Ward
Mrs Hambleton said: “What everyone seems to forget is the mass murder of our loved ones: 21 people killed, 200 people left with life-changing injuries, 47 years later and there is still no justice.
“Why did the police decide to take (Chris Mullin) to court now, and why not when he first published the book, surely that was the time to do it?
“A cynical view might be that it was an attempt by West Midlands Police to deviate from their own failings, over many, many years.”
Ms Hambleton and the families of other victims met with Home Secretary Priti Patel in March 2021 to discuss relatives’ calls for a legal public inquiry into the bombings.
There was a virtual follow-up meeting in September of last year, but families were still waiting for an update.
Assistant Chief Constable Matt Ward of West Midlands Police said: “This was a complex issue balancing the need to pursue all the important lines of inquiry relating to the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings of the rights of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of the sources of their information.
“The court has issued its independent judgement, which we will now carefully consider.
“West Midlands Police remain committed to bringing to justice those responsible for the murder of 21 innocent victims.”