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Complainant Name:
Sir John Gorst

Clauses Noted: 1, 14

Publication: Hendon & Finchley Times


Sir John Gorst, Member of Parliament for Hendon North, complained that articles in the Hendon and Finchley Times and Edgware and Mill Hill Times headlined "Casualty is saved" on 13 June 1996, were based on information that he had given in confidence, in breach of Clause 17 (Confidential sources) of the Code of Practice and were misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).

Sir John had consented to be interviewed by a reporter working for the Hendon Times Newspaper Group which publishes both newspapers. 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.

However, on 13 June 1996 articles containing a summary of the interview appeared in the newspapers. 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 his remarks for publication when he had not.

The newspaper responded that their reporter had also passed the story to The Daily Telegraph which was publishing an article on the following day. In view of the fact that they knew that it would be appearing in a national newspaper, they saw little point in withholding publication at the same time since the information was being put in the public domain by The Daily Telegraph. Sir John replied that even if the publications concerned had been entitled to copy the information contained in The Daily Telegraph story this would not have justified them using additional material obtained on a confidential basis.

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. In any event, in the view of the Commission, the two periodicals concerned had not represented that Sir John was the source of the story. For the most part, they had picked up a story which they knew was being published in a national newspaper. The Commission noted however that the articles did not suggest that Sir John had been the source of the stories. To that extent the complaint under Clause 17 was rejected.

So far as the complaint under Clause 1 is concerned, it had not been suggested that the actual content of the articles was inaccurate.

The complaint under Clause 1 was rejected.


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