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Complainant Name:
Richard Hillgrove

Clauses Noted: 14

Publication: The Sunday Times


Richard Hillgrove VI complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "How the Nigella drug allegations surfaced", published by The Sunday Times on 22 December 2013, revealed his identity as a source of information in breach of Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article followed the conclusion of the trial of two former assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson, during which allegations had been heard by the court that Ms Lawson had used controlled drugs. At that time, the complainant had published theories on his blog about the nature of photographs of Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi which had been widely published, which had prompted solicitors acting for Ms Lawson to write to the complainant, threatening to take legal action against him. The article reported that the complainant had approached the newspaper after the publication of the photographs, and had attempted to negotiate the publication of allegations regarding Ms Lawson's use of drugs and her treatment of Mr Saatchi's daughter. The article identified the complainant as the source of a number of emails apparently from a named third party which he had forwarded to a journalist.

The complainant accepted that it was legitimate for him to be identified as the recipient of correspondence from solicitors acting for Ms Lawson, but he considered that the newspaper had breached Clause 14 by identifying him as the source of information contained in the story. He said his correspondence with the freelance journalist, who had been commissioned by the newspaper, was clearly marked as confidential. He had requested, via an email to the newspaper, that it would "not write an article stating emails are from [the third party] but they will strictly be written as source/friend". The newspaper had agreed to this request. The complainant sent a subsequent email to the newspaper in which he asked that "if I happen to be mentioned or quoted, as discussed, please can you say my info has come from a close friend of [the third party] (not [the third party])". The newspaper had not replied to this email. The complainant considered that his emails, taken together, amounted to an agreement that the newspaper would treat him as a confidential source.

The newspaper did not accept that it had agreed to treat the complainant as a confidential source; any agreement reached did not relate to him, but to the third party. In any case, the newspaper argued that the moral obligation to protect confidential sources, as set out in Clause 14, should not be read in isolation; journalists also have an obligation not to allow the public to be misled. It noted that it had not publicised the complainant's involvement in the matter until the conclusion of the criminal trial, by which time his name and connection with the story were both in the public domain.

Not Upheld


The Commission emphasised that it was not required to make any finding in relation to the article insofar as it referred to the third party and that it was required to consider, solely, whether the complainant could be considered to be a confidential source.

Clause 14 states that "journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information".

Determining whether an individual is a confidential source is not always straightforward. In cases where publication is preceded by continuing interactions between the parties, and in the absence of an express agreement, the Commission takes a practical approach to assessing whether an understanding had developed between the parties that the source should be treated confidentially. In this instance, it was relevant to the Commission's consideration that the complainant - an experienced public relations professional - was plainly familiar with the relevant conventions.

The assurances which the complainant had sought from the newspaper were, at best, ambiguous in relation to his own position: in the correspondence exchanged before publication it was not clear to whom the request for anonymity extended, not least because the complainant had acknowledged the possibility that he might be quoted in the article. The exchanges could not reasonably be construed as confirmation by the newspaper that the complainant would be treated as a confidential source.

The complaint under Clause 14 was not upheld.

Date Published:

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