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BBC v Rochdale MBC & X & Y 2005 EWHC 2862 (Fam)

Application by BBC for an order permitting them to disclose the identity of two social workers involved in the Rochdale ‘satanic abuse’ investigations.

BBC v Rochdale MBC & X & Y 2005 EWHC 2862 (Fam)

High Court (Family Division): Ryder J (24 November 2005)

Summary
Application by BBC for an order permitting them to disclose the identity of two social workers involved in the Rochdale 'satanic abuse' investigations.

Background
X & Y had both been involved in the investigation and subsequent wardship proceedings arising from 'satanic abuse' allegations in Rochdale in the early 1990's. The allegations were not proved in open court and injunctions were made to protect the identities of the children. Those injunctions prevented anyone from broadcasting any information 'calculated to lead to the identification of the minors' and from 'soliciting any information related to the said minors'. All the professionals in the case were named, save X and Y, as at that time they were still involved with the Wards. However, both X and Y now work for different authorities unconnected with the Wards..

On 22 May 2005 the BBC applied for an order permitting the activity prevented by the injunctions to allow a documentary on the case to be filmed. The local authority, X and Y agreed with the BBC and detailed orders were agreed but the question remained of whether X and Y could be identified. Subsequently, on 16 August 2005 and 1 September 2005, X and Y issued applications for injunctions restraining the BBC from naming them.

The BBC argued that there is a strong public interest in the case given its impact on child protection in general and its relevance for current child care concerns. The wards of court, now adults, wish to give their account of the events and that account would be less cogent if the social workers are protected.

Rochdale, X and Y argued that social workers deserve anonymity and that their Article 8 rights are engaged as they fear exposure could have a negative impact on their careers and their family lives.

Judgment
Ryder J, dismissing the applications by X and Y for the injunction restraining the BBC, firstly concluded that, unless there is an order to the contrary, a witness in proceedings involving child welfare can be named. He then proceeded to balance social worker's rights to privacy under Article 8 against the rights to freedom of expression under Article 10. He concluded that the facts in this case are not exceptional enough to warrant interference with the Article 10 rights of the BBC and the former wards of court. Although X and Y's article 8 rights would be interfered with if named, such interference is proportionate to the legitimate aim of informed discussion of the proceedings and family proceedings in general.

Read the full text of the judgment here