The one story from the MPs expenses that has really annoyed me – and there are plenty – was the story about police being called in to investigate “the mole” who sold the details to The Telegraph.
Now, I’d rather that person had simply leaked the document, but there’s no arguing as to the importance of the information he gave to the press.
So it infuriated me that another whistleblower is probably going to be punished for revealing a story of vital interest to the public.
We’re supposed to be living in a society which supports a free press – but the heavy handed punishments and harrasment of whistleblowers flies in the face of this.
I was on the newsdesk of the Gloucestershire Echo when the Katherine Gunn case broke.
She was the GCHQ worker who leaked an email to from the NSA requesting British help to bug offices and homes of UN diplomats from countries whose support would be vital to win a resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq.
This was an incredibly important story. But what Katherine Gunn went through afterwards was scandalous.
Then of course there was David Kelly – the man hounded to suicide for leaking the ‘dodgier dossier’.
I also had conversations with Sally Murrer, the journalist arrested and detained for 48 hours for having an off the record chat with a whistleblowing police officer.
In the last couple of months we’ve seen a teacher sacked for filming incredible examples of poor behaviour in schools and a nurse struck off for filming the terrible conditions of a hospital – something she only did after her complaints were ignored by her bosses.
So it came as no surprise to me to hear that The Times is going to be punished for daring to point problems with our legal system. The paper ran a piece from a foreman of a jury who showed how a controversial decision was reached in a manslaughter trial.
All journalists know that the jury is out of bounds when reporting on court cases. And most of us also know that the jury system is absurdly flawed.
Having served on a jury, I’ve seen first hand how ludicrous a system it can be. In my case, one of the jurors stated, after just the prosecution’s opening statement, that he didn’t care about the evidence. He said that he trusted the police and as the man had been arrested, he had to have done something. He also believed that as it was a drugs case and the man was of a certain age and class, he was definitely guilty.
In the end, two days of arguments were settled by tiredness – the not guilty dissenters backed down because they wanted to go home.
The man was clearly guilty in my eyes, and the verdict reflected that, but the way it was settled was incredibly worrying.
So I think it is an incredible injustice that The Times and the foreman are going to be done for contempt of court for having the balls to say something. They’ve probably done the legal system a great service.
Too many whistleblowers are being punished for bringing important truths to light, and until they get greater protection, a free press will never be fully realised.