AddThis SmartLayers

Journalist wins legal battle after refusing to reveal sources

The deputy editor of two local newspapers in Scotland has won a legal battle after he refused to reveal his source for a story about a council employee being sacked.

Mike McQuaid, deputy editor of the Motherwell Times and Bellshill Speaker, last week gave evidence at a hearing of the standards commission, a government quango.

It followed a claim that a councillor had leaked information from a confidential document about the sacking to the paper.

Mike was backed by both the papers’ owner, Johnston Press, and the National Union of Journalists in refusing to reveal his source.

The commission contacted him a year ago after the story initially appeared and in August this year lawyers for the company attended the hearing with Mike’s notebook sealed in a envelope.

During the hearing Mike refused to name the source who supplied the report even though he had earlier been threatened with jail if he failed to comply with an order to hand over his notebook to investigators.

The chief investigating officer from the commission had written to him last October demanding that he hand over his notebook and said if he would be in contempt of court if he did not comply.

The papers’ lawyers have now successfully contested that move and Mike’s refusal to reveal his source has been reported in the latest editions of the two papers.

Said Mike: “I got a letter asking for the notebook to be handed over within seven days. There was a warning further down the line that non-compliance was a criminal offence.

“I suppose I was quite worried but thought that surely the law is our side and I can’t be forced to hand over the notebook, so I got in touch with the NUJ.”

It was when the commission repeated the demand a few months later that company lawyers got involved. At the hearing they quoted the European Convention of Human Rights and that journalists should not feel compelled to hand over their sources.

Mike told HTFP that others should stand their ground if they find themselves in the same situation: “The law is on our side. They can make all the noises they want but if you get lawyers involved you will hopefully have the same outcome as I have.”

Despite Mike’s refusal to give a name, the commission decided that Councillor Paul Delaney was the source and banned him from Motherwell Civic Centre meetings for three months.

He was found guilty of breaching the councillors’ code of conduct by leaking information to the press and making unjustified criticism of a senior council official in a separate Times story.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • October 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

    well done Mike. Called their bluff.
    All that councils, NHS, and cops wants is sanitised press releases plopped on to newspaper pages. Sadly they are getting this far too often on some shoddy or under-staffed papers for the health of journalism.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • October 12, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Good for you, Mike. You must be doing something right to irritate them that much!! Don’t back down – see them in court!

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)