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Newspaper wins six-week legal fight over consultant

A regional daily has won a six-week legal fight to publish details about a hospital consultant’s work which has been described by experts as “negligent.”

Confidential reports on the performance of Dr Changez Jadun were disclosed to the Staffordshire-based Sentinel, leading to a prolonged legal fight over whether the newspaper could publish the story.

Health reporter Dave Blackhurst was sent the documents which were highly-critical of the work of the doctor, who is a consultant at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.

Dave asked the hospital trust for a meeting to discuss the matter. He met them on April 28 but wasn’t given an indication that the hospital would take legal action.

However the following day, the Trust’s solicitors served a draft injunction on the newspaper to prevent it naming the doctor, demanding that the documents be destroyed, and calling for it not to name or identify the patients.

Deputy Editor Richard Bowyer said: “While we would always protect the identity of any patient, we felt it was clearly in the public interest for us to name the doctor and publish the leaked documents in full.”

Working with Tony Jaffa and Peter Singfield from solicitors FootAnstey, the Sentinel responded to the hospital saying that it would not agree to the undertaking that had been asked for.

After prolonged negotiations, the newspaper won the right to name the doctor to and keep three copies of the reports, but agreed to remove the names of the patients from the documents.

However, the newspaper had to ensure that it had Common Law qualified privilege so that the article could appear with legal protection.

Explained Richard: “We had to ensure that Dr Jadun was given as many opportunities as we could possibly give to respond to the allegations over his work. We made a number of calls, went round to talk to him at his home and attempted, but failed to deliver a letter to his home asking for him to speak to us.

“I have also emailed senior managers at the hospital to inform them of our actions. All of this has ensured that we had privilege on the story prior to publication.”

After the hospital agreed the undertakings with the newspaper it then insisted that the agreement was put in the hands of the court. This means that if the paper breaches any parts of the agreement it would be in Contempt of Court.

However, the Sentinel believes that the hospital didn’t have to do this and the newspaper and Trust could have made a formal agreement rather than getting the courts involved.

The Sentinel has acted with great professionalism and patience to ensure publication. From the start the Trust has dragged its feet and attempted to gag us,” Richard said.

“We believe there was no need for the hospital to use the courts in this manner. We have throughout behaved with great integrity. The University Hospital must be embarrassed to have spent so much taxpayers’ trying to block us from reporting this story. The NHS claims to be transparent, we feel we have seen nothing of the sort.

“I would like to praise the work of health reporter Dave Blackhurst who once again proved that good old fashioned investigative journalism and good contacts are alive and kicking.”