Police cannot use secret papers as libel case 'shield'

POLICE OFFICERS accused of corruption should not be able to milk newspapers for libel damages simply because documents that could prove the officers' guilt were protected by public interest immunity, the Lord Chief Justice ruled yesterday.

Making an unprecendented ruling in the Court of Appeal, Lord Taylor ordered that the documents, currently held by the Police Complaints Authority, should be disclosed to a Coventry newspaper to help it defend a libel action against two former members of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.

The two officers, Detective Constables David Woodley and Roger Clifford, have already received pounds 40,000 in damages from the Independent, the Guardian and the BBC in similar libel actions. These actions were over claims that the two officers interfered with the course of justice by stealing interview notes about the case of Michael Bromell, who was jailed for four years for wounding on evidence supplied by squad members.

But last month Lord Taylor presided over the successful appeal of Mr Bromell, who maintained that his confession was fabricated. During that appeal, Lord Taylor was given documents held by the Police Complaints Authority which led him to conclude that there was a 'very real possibility' that the two officers had taken the interview notes that could have proved Mr Bromell's innocence.

In February 1990, the Director of Public Prosecutions, having examined the same documents, decided not to prosecute the two officers. Coventry Newspapers Ltd (CNL) is seeking to obtain these documents to help fight the libel action. But the authority has resisted on the grounds of public interest immunity, fearing that disclosing them to a newspaper could deter people from coming to it in future investigations.

But yesterday Lord Taylor said: 'If, as both CNL and the wider public now have every reason to suspect, these documents appear to point clearly towards corruption on the part of named officers, it is surely not to be tolerated that those same officers should continue to mulct the press in damages whilst the courts disable their adversaries from an effective defence by witholding the documents from them.'

Sitting with Mr Justice Simon Brown and Mr Simon Roche, he said they did not accept that those who had co-operated with the Police Complaints Authority and knew of the appeal court's grave suspicions about the officers 'would truly prefer to remain anonymous and watch these officers prosper in their libel action', than have the matter fully and fairly argued in court.

'As was suggested in argument, that would indeed be to swallow the elephant and strain at the gnat,' he said.

The judges said they were not opening the floodgates to disclosure of documents which would normally retain their public interest immunity. 'The documents here are proposed for use not as a sword, but as a shield.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Permanent Class Teachers Required for 2015/2016 - Suffolk

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers seeking perma...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers Required in Norwich and Great Yarmouth

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am working on behalf of a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate - Newly Qualified Teachers Required For Sept 2015

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate Teachers/ Newly Qua...

Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate - Newly Qualified Teachers Required For Sept 2015

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate Teachers/ Newly Qua...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food