Five media groups in the UK have lost their appeal against a High Court ruling in December forcing them to hand over leaked documents from the Belgian brewing group, Interbrew, relating to a possible bid for South African Breweries.

The House of Lords has refused to hear further appeals from the media groups so they have effectively run out of options in the UK legal system. Their final recourse would be to go to the European Court of Human Rights.

The five groups, Reuters, the FT, The Independent, The Guardian and The Times, argued that to hand over information given to them in confidence would be against the principles of free speech and had also argued against Interbrew on the grounds of press freedom.

However, Interbrew has contended that the documents had been tampered with to make it appear that it was preparing a hostile bid for SAB. Publication of the documents had pushed Interbrew's share price down and sent SAB's higher. But the Court of Appeal ruled in March that the documents represented disinformation and that there was little public interest in withholding them.