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Report No. 93

4.24. English cases of theft of documents.-

There is an interesting case of "theft" of document by a journalist in England. David May, a journalist, obtained photographs of a Spanish banker after the bankers kidnap in Paris in 1974. The photographs, to prove their authenticity were accompanied by the banker's Paris residence permit. May refused to tell the police the source of the photographs and the permit. He was charged with handing "stolen property" (the permit), but was acquitted. The prosecution admitted that May1 would not have been charged it he had disclosed his source. They maintained that the journalists code of conduct was overridden, because the banker's life was at stake. The judge said that the journalists' code of silence was "not inflexible", and "there may be circumstances in which.... it is more honourable to preserve life than a confidence."

In 1973, the Sunday Times and the Railway Gazette published stories about projected cuts in rail services, based on a confidential document which (the officials alleged) had been "removed" from Ministry offices. Police raided the office of the Railway Gazette, saying that they were investigating an alleged theft of the documents. However, they failed to find the source through which it had been leaked. The Attorney-General later felt that there was "insufficient information" on which to charge any one with "stealing" a photocopy of the document.2

1. R.V. May, (1975), as summarised by Anthony Richards Law for Journalists, (1977), pp. 84-85.

2. Anthony Richards Law for Journalists, (1977), p. 85.

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