British Steel Corporation (Plaintiffs v Granada Television Ltd (Defendants

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date07 May 1980
Judgment citation (vLex)[1980] EWCA Civ J0507-2
Docket Number1980 B. No. 812
Date07 May 1980

[1980] EWCA Civ J0507-2

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

On Appeal from the High Court of Justice

Chancery Division

The Vice-Chancellor)


The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Templeman


Lord Justice Watkins

1980 B. No. 812
British Steel Corporation
Plaintiffs (Respondents)
Granada Television Limited
Defendants (Appellants)

MR. L. HOFFMAN, Q. C. and MR. D. KITCHIN (instructed by Messrs. Clifford Turner & Co.) appeared on behalf of the Plaintiffs (Respondents).

MR. A. IRVINE, Q. C. and MR. P. MOLONEY (instructed by Messrs. Goodman Derrick & Co.) appeared on behalf of the Defendants (Appellants).


The Steel Papers were highly confidential. Granada Television used them in a programme which contained severe criticism of the British Steel Corporation. The question is: Can Granada be compelled to disclose their source of information?


All of us remember the steel strike at the beginning of this year. It is described in my judgment in Dupont Steels Ltd. v. Sirs (1980) 1 Weekly Law Reports at pages 148-9. The men employed by the British Steel Corporation came out on strike for higher wages. On the face of it, the dispute was between the workers and the management. But it developed into a confrontation between the trade union and the government. The media gave the dispute full coverage. Each side went on the air to give its point of view. There was a battle in which each sought to get the support of public opinion.


Much might be said in this case - against the conduct of the unnamed informer - and against Granada for the programme which they put on the air. But I feel that we should for the moment look upon the facts as they appeared to the unnamed informer and Granada. A good deal of it is surmise, but that is inevitable, seeing that the unnamed informer has not come forward to put his case.




The unnamed informer was probably a man in the uppermost levels of the British Steel Corporation. Either in the offices of the Board of the Corporation or in the offices of the Chief Executive. He had access to all the confidential papers - reports, memoranda, minutes - even those which were most secret. He knew all about the dealings between the Steel Corporation and the government before and during the strike. He wasindignant about them. He thought that the corporation itself was not free from blame - owing to its poor management record. He also thought that the government were to blame - because the corporation would have been prepared to make an offer to the men which they would have accepted - but it was blocked by the government. He thought the public ought to know this. So he determined to tell the Granada Television people. He went through the confidential papers in his office. He sorted them out. He picked out the most telling parts. He took them to Granada. Two hundred and fifty sheets of them. This was a grave breach of confidence on his part. It was quite inexcusable. But I think we should assume that he did it - not out of malice - nor to make money out of it - but out of a keen sense of indignation. He asked no money. Nor any other benefit. He did it because he thought the public ought to know.




When Granada read the papers, they were most interested. At the first glance they were very confidential. Many of them marked "Secret". Granada thought that the papers might be useful to put in a programme. They gave a firm assurance to the unnamed informer that no step would be taken that might reveal or risk the disclosure of his identity. They regarded it "as a basic ethic of the journalists' profession that the identity of sources must be protected".


What use should be made of these Steel Papers - as they were called? It was considered by the Head of Current Affairs at Granada Television, Mr. David Boulton. He asked the programme editors and the producer to go through the Steel Papers and assess their content and import. He got their assessment. He decided that there were a number of points whichwere of considerable public interest that should be ventilated. Especially as the British Steel Corporation was a public corporation accountable to Parliament. He thought that the disclosure of the documents could legitimately be regarded as a public duty. He felt, however, that the co-operation of the British Steel Corporation should be sought. The Corporation should be advised that Granada had the documents: and Sir Charles Villiers, the Chairman of the Corporation, should be invited to take part in a programme. Mr. Boulton says that their purpose was to make a fair presentation and to afford the corporation ample opportunity to explain and answer the points which arose from the documents.




The implementation of the plan was left by Granada to Mr. Segaller, the producer. He got into touch with Mr. Melvin, the press officer of the Steel Corporation. It was arranged that Sir Charles should give an interview on television. It was to be pre-recorded on the afternoon of Monday, 4th February, 1980. It was to be used as part of a programme on "The World in Action" at 8.30 p. m. that day. It was to be broadcast countrywide on the whole of the Independent Television network.


One thing is unfortunate. Granada left it very late before they warned the corporation that they had possession of these confidential papers. It was not until four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, 3rd February. Mr. Segaller the producer then telephoned Mr. Melvin the press officer of the Steel Corporation, and said: "We have come into possession of some of the corporation documents which we intend to use in the 'World in Action' programme". Mr. Melvin said: "What are they? Let me have a list of them. I cannot do anything until I know what they are". Six hours later, at ten o'clock that Sunday evening,Mr. Segaller telephoned Mr. Melvin at his home. He read out a list of 27 headings such as "Extract" from this report or that - without giving any details of their contents. Mr. Melvin was worried. He thought that the documents must have been obtained improperly. He asked: "How did you get hold of these? Where did you get them from?" The producer replied: "Obviously we cannot tell you that".


That was about 10.00 p. m. on the Sunday night. But Mr. Segaller must have worked late that night. He set to work there and then on a letter. He dated it that day, Sunday, 3rd February, 1980 in Manchester. He had it ready by first thing on Monday morning. Then he sent it by air messenger to London.


This is what it said:


3rd February 1980.


"I enclosure a draft outline of the contents of the World in Action programme to be recorded and transmitted today" - that would be Monday the 4th - "for the information of Sir Charles Villiers before the interview we have agreed to record. This outline includes details of BSC internal papers of which copies have been passed to us in the past few days, and to which the programme will refer.


"These documents, and the filmed material in the programme, form the basis for the areas of questioning detailed on another sheet, also enclosed. I think you will find that the programme's full script will stick very closely to the outline, and the questions to be put in the interview will reflect the programme material very straightforwardly.


"I look forward to speaking to you again later this morning" - that is the Monday - "to confirm arrangements for Sir Charles's interview in either Manchester or London".


Note: As I said, "to-day" and "this morning" must mean Monday, 4th February, 1980.


The enclosures were three pages outlining the programme and referring to some of the Steel Papers - specifying this or that report or memorandum - but not the particular part of it which was to be used.


That letter arrived at the corporation's office in Grosvenor Place on the Monday, Not long before Sir Charles and Mr. Melvin had to leave on the train for Manchester. They took it with them and read it, I expect, on the train. As soon as they got to the Granada office, Mr. Segaller, the producer, gave Sir Charles a full script of the whole programme. Granada had evidently got the programme all prepared - all extracts from the Steel Papers photographed - all words spoken - all on video tape - covering 20 minutes of viewing time - with only another seven minutes to be filled by the interview with Sir Charles. That was to be transmitted unedited.


Sir Charles protested, he says, about their possession of the Steel Papers. They say that he did not protest. But whether he did so or not, there was certainly no consent on his part to their using them. At any rate, Sir Charles was interviewed. It did take seven minutes. We have seen the whole programme as it was sent out: and we have the script of it. At the outset (before interviewing Sir Charles) the commentator made full play with the Steel Papers. He said:


"Last week a number of documents came into the possession of World in Action. They are letters, memos and internal reports from the BSC. They were drawn up over the last five years and none of them was ever intended for publication. Tonight we examine these papers and the new light they appear to throw onthe Corporation strategy and the Government's declared policy of non-intervention".


Then the commentator goes on, time after time, to say that "the BSC documents received by World in Action" show this, that or the other. Sometimes it was to show poor management on the part of the corporation. At other times it was to show that there had been "back-door government intervention" which had produced or prolonged the strike. The programme showed extracts from the Steel Papers to support these suggestions.


Eventually, when the time came for Sir Charles to be...

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