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Complainant Name:
Sir John Gorst

Clauses Noted: 1, 14

Publication: The Daily Telegraph


Sir John Gorst, Member of Parliament for Hendon North, complained that an article in The Daily Telegraph headlined "Major saves hospital to keep power" on 13 June 1996, was based on information that he had given in confidence, in breach of Clause 17 (Confidential sources) of the Code of Practice and was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).

Sir John had consented to be interviewed on 11 June 1996 by a reporter working for the Hendon Times Newspaper Group who was also acting as a freelance reporter for The Daily Telegraph. The interview concerned the future of Edgware Hospital's Accident and Emergency Department which Sir John and another Member of Parliament were committed to retaining. He told the Commission that he had agreed to the interview on the basis that nothing would be printed if agreement was reached with the Secretary of State regarding the future of the department. The MP told the reporter that they had informed the Secretary of State that if he would not promise to maintain a full casualty unit at the hospital they would withdraw their support for the Government. This promise was subsequently received and Sir John notified the reporter of the fact. He told the Commission that the Political Editor of The Daily Telegraph knew of, and had assented to, the conditions he had laid down and had been specifically told that the story could not appear.

However, on 13 June 1996 an article containing a summary of the interview appeared in The Daily Telegraph. The complainant objected to this since he had given the information to the reporter on the condition that it would only be published in the circumstances outlined above. He believed this was in breach of Clause 17 of the Code which relates to the protection of confidential sources. He further objected under Clause 1 because he believed the newspaper had misled the public into believing that he had authorised remarks and documents for publication when he had not.

The newspaper responded that the means by which the two MPs had obtained the assurance regarding the future of the casualty department was a matter of considerable public interest. Neither its news editor nor any person in authority was aware at any material time that any conditions had been made regarding publication of the interview. It maintained that the freelance reporter was not authorised to give any undertakings binding on The Daily Telegraph in respect of the interview.

Not Upheld


The Commission accepted that Sir John had been fighting a vigorous campaign on behalf of his constituents to protect the future of Edgware Hospital's Accident and Emergency Department. However, it noted that the interview - legitimately undertaken as part of that campaign - which the complainant said was given in confidence, was essentially the subject of an oral agreement between the freelance reporter and Sir John and whose publication depended on whether the Secretary of State provided the assurance regarding the hospital unit.

Clause 17 of the Code deals with the moral obligation of journalists to protect confidential sources of information. The Commission does not normally consider complaints regarding alleged breaches of agreements concerning the publication of confidential information except where there is an alleged breach of other parts of the Code. The Commission notes however that the article did not suggest that Sir John had been the source of the story. To that extent the complaint under Clause 17 was rejected.

As to the complaint under Clause 1, it had not been suggested that the actual content of the article itself was inaccurate.

The complaint under Clause 1 was rejected.


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