Contempt case over 'Pinochet tests' leak dropped

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The Independent Online

The Solicitor General has withdrawn his threat to take The Independent and other newspapers to court over the publication of a medical report on Augusto Pinochet.

The Independent was warned by Ross Cranston's office that it could be in contempt of court after publishing details of the report, which had formed the basis of Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to free the former Chilean dictator.

The results of medical tests, showing General Pinochet suffered from brain damage, were leaked in February after Mr Straw was ordered by the High Court to hand over the report to Belgium, Spain, France and Switzerland - four states seeking to extradite him for human rights abuses.

Lawyers for the Home Secretary and the General had argued in court that the report should be kept confidential. The judges stated it should be handed over to the four states "in strict confidence".

Details from the report had already appeared in the Spanish and Chilean media and over the internet before being published in Britain. Lawyers involved in the case originally believed the initial leak had come from the Spanish government, which had opposed extradition demands by the judge Baltasar Garzon. The British Government asked Spain to investigate the leak.

Louise Hayman, legal adviser to The Independent, said: "I pointed out to the Solicitor General's office that taking us to court would be a waste of public money. They had no realistic chance of winning because the information we published was already in the public domain."

The Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, had ruled himself out of handling the issue of the leak because of his links with the human rights group, Redress, which had campaigned for the General to be extradited. A spokesman for the Solicitor General's office said there was "no official reason" behind dropping the case.