A regional newspaper that was dragged into a courtroom battle between a former council official and a councillor has been awarded more than £7,000 in legal costs.
Former Plymouth council standards watchdog Malcolm Haggart was sued for harrassment by city councillor Terri Beer over letters he wrote her in 2008, one of which asked if she had returned from holiday with an ‘all-over tan.’
The row was first revealed in city daily The Herald, and the paper’s political reporter Keith Rossiter faced a witness summmons from Mr Haggart demanding he reveal the source of his story.
However the paper’s lawyers resisted the demand, and have now been awarded their legal costs in full.
During the case, the court heard that Mr Haggart had allegedly sent Keith a letter referring to people like him being “cut up and placed in lobster pots some 20 miles south of the Eddystone Lighthouse.”
Under the Contempt of Court Act, Keith could have faced up to two years in jail for refusing to reveal his confidential source when quizzed by Mr Haggart in court, but Judge Christopher Gardner QC struck out the summons after representations from the paper’s lawyers, Foot Anstey.
The judge refused to uphold either party’s claim as he returned judgement at Torquay and Newton Abbot County Court last Thursday.
He also declined to award either Ms Beer or Mr Haggart any costs following the nearly four-year row, and awarded The Herald costs of £7,358.40.
Solicitor Tony Jaffa said the case could have been “precedent-setting” for media law.
“This is an application which was of such fundamental importance to the concept of freedom of expression that it attracted not only my client’s attention and his employer’s attention, but also the attention of the industry. The eyes of the world were upon us,” he said.
Former Herald editor Bill Martin added: “The protection of confidential sources is at the heart of the free press and everybody’s right to freedom of expression.
“We were determined to stand up for this essential principle and are delighted that it has rightly been upheld.”