The Express newspaper yesterday won an appeal court battle to protect the identity of a source who had handed over a confidential document containing legal advice on Sir Elton John's financial affairs.
Three judges overturned an earlier decision which had ordered the paper to disclose its source. They said the incident was a one-off which should not be used to erode the right of reporters to protect their sources.
During the original hearing at the high court in London, Mr Justice Morland was told that a draft of a barrister's written opinion, which had been discarded at his chambers, found its way to the Express journalist Rachel Baird.
After making notes about the document, Ms Baird tore it up, put the pieces in an envelope and asked a colleague to dispose of them. They ended up in a Soho dustbin.
When Ms Baird telephoned Sir Elton's lawyers for a comment on the information she had gained, they immediately obtained an injunction banning publication.
The injunction remains in force.
Mr Justice Morland had ruled that the newspaper should disclose its source because that person presented a "very real and continuing danger to the interests of justice, threatening the confidentiality of legal professional privilege".
"Balancing the competing interests of justice and of investigative journalism, in the exercise of my discretion in my judgment I do not consider it disproportionate to order, and do so order, the defendants to disclose the identity of the source."
Express Newspapers, the paper's editor Rosie Boycott and journalist Rachel Baird appealed, arguing that the paper had a "public interest" defence under the contempt of court act.
Giving his judgment yesterday, the master of the rolls, Lord Woolf, said that Mr Justice Morland was "clearly wrong" to conclude that the desire to identify the source overrode the need to protect that person.
There was a "prime need" to protect the source "in the interest of ensuring a free press in a democratic society", he said.
• The hospital which houses Moors murderer Ian Brady yesterday won a high court order directing the Mirror newspaper to reveal the source who handed over confidential records on the killer.
Ashworth hospital in Maghull, Merseyside, took the action over publication of a series of verbatim extracts from a diary that logged Brady's moods, actions and words.