NEWS
18/07/2018 09:49 BST | Updated 18/07/2018 14:55 BST

Cliff Richard BBC Verdict: Star Wins Case Over Police Raid Coverage'

The judge said the BBC infringed Sir Cliff’s privacy rights “without justification”.

Sir Cliff Richard has won his case against the BBC over the broadcaster’s coverage of a police raid on his home following a child sexual assault allegation.

The singer, 77, has been awarded £210,000 in damages, with the High Court judge explaining that the BBC infringed Sir Cliff’s privacy rights “without justification”.

The judge said Sir Cliff would be awarded £190,000 in damages. He is also awarded a further £20,000 in aggravated damages due to the BBC’s decision to nominate the story for the Royal Television Society’s ‘Scoop of the Year’ award. 

Mr Justice Mann said the BBC was much more responsible than South Yorkshire Police, who previously settled a case with Sir Cliff.

Outside the court, his lawyer read out a statement on his behalf. He said Sir Cliff was “very pleased” with the ruling and the experience has had a “profound” effect on him.

“Serious questions ought to be asked about the BBC’s focus on preserving their exclusive story on the expense of Sir Cliff’s rights,” he said.

Sir Cliff’s motivation was not for financial gain, the lawyer said, as he knew he would be “substantially out of pocket” as a result of the impact of the BBC’s coverage but he wanted to ensure no other innocent person would have to go through what he went through. 

Responding to questions from reporters, a tearful Sir Cliff briefly spoke to say it would take him a while to get over the “emotional factor” and that he would talk to journalists at a later date.

In an interview with ITV News, he spoke of the “most wonderful relief” and said the verdict was “far more emotional” than I thought. 

He said his business manager, secretary, friends and family has suffered it with them, adding as his voice broke that he was “not sure they deserved that”.

Earlier in the courtroom, he said: “I’m choked up. I can’t believe it. It’s wonderful news.”

Toby Melville / Reuters

Reacting to the judgment, BBC’s Director of News, Fran Unsworth, said the corporation would be looking at appealing against the judgment.

Unsworth said the BBC was sorry for the distress that Sir Cliff has been through and that they understand “the very serious impact” that this has had on him.

She said that on reflection there are things they would have done differently with how they covered the story but said the judge had “ruled that the very naming of Sir Cliff was unlawful”.

“So even if the BBC not used helicopter shots or ran the story with less prominence, the judge would still have found that the story was unlawful; despite ruling that what we broadcast about the search was accurate,” she said. 

“This judgment creates new case law and represents a dramatic shift against press freedom and the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations, which in some cases has led to further complainants coming forward.

“This impacts not just the BBC, but every media organisation.”

She added that it wasn’t just about individuals but will also make it harder for journalists to scrutinise the police. 

Unsworth said it was because “a significant principle” was at stake that the BBC is looking at an appeal.

“We don’t believe this is compatible with liberty and press freedoms; something that has been at the heart of this country for generations,” she said.

Asked by a reporter if either she or BBC head of news-gathering Jonathan Munro has considered offering their resignations, Ms Unsworth replied that the judgment was “very long” and that the corporation will “take time to consider what lessons are to be learned”.

She added that she believed every member of BBC staff involved with the story about the raid on Sir Cliff’s home had “acted in good faith”.

Sir Cliff had previously argued he suffered huge financial losses following the BBC’s reporting, which involved a helicopter filming his Berkshire home, and said the live footage was a “very serious invasion” of his privacy.

The police raid was part of an investigation into allegations of historic sexual abuse, for which Sir Cliff was never arrested or charged.

PA Wire/PA Images

The judge had overseen the High Court trial in London during April and May. 

In August 2014, South Yorkshire police raided Sir Cliff’s home in Sunningdale, Berkshire following an allegation of an offence against a boy under the age of 16 in Sheffield in 1985.

It was part of Operation Yewtree, the investigation into historic sex abuse set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Sir Cliff’s lawyer’s told the court that the BBC’s coverage of the raid was a “gross invasion of his privacy” and the singer had sustained “possibly permanent damage to his self-esteem, standing and reputation” as a result.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, said: “The psychological damage, as well as not forgetting the reputational damage, was indisputably immense.”

Rushbrooke said without the BBC camera crews and the helicopter it was “quite clear this was an event which could have easily gone unremarked”.

He said the BBC’s report triggered the “excessive” level of worldwide coverage.

“Without exaggeration I would submit that in pretty much every nook and cranny of the English speaking world the fact, the details and the intrusive video footage found their way into the public domain,” he said.

But Gavin Millar QC, representing the BBC, told the court its coverage of the story was fair, accurate and in the public interest, arguing that it is not a breach of privacy rules to factually report the existence of a police investigation.

He said he accepted the coverage would have an impact but said this had to be separated from the “distress” of being under police investigation.

“The BBC’s reporting was confined to the most basic facts/visual images concerning the investigation and the search,” he said. “There was nothing in the reporting that was inconsistent with the presumption of innocence.”

Millar told the court that the singer could have no “reasonable expectation” that he could remain anonymous in any reporting of the allegations. 

“Sir Cliff might have hoped not to be identified,” he added. “But looked at objectively, he could not really expect to be anonymised.”

The judge heard that South Yorkshire Police had agreed to pay Sir Cliff £400,000 after settling a claim he brought against them.

The singer was seeking damages “at the top end of the scale” from the BBC – likely to total in the region of £600,000.

Sir Cliff has previously said he has spent £3.4m on the case.

The verdict could have far-reaching consequences for the media and freedom of the press, by setting a precedent for journalists being allowed to report on police investigations.

During the case Miller said no such privacy claim over the reporting of a police search has ever been heard in a British court before.

He added: “Parliament had never legislated to prevent reporting of the execution of search warrants.”

Media commentators have agreed the case could have ramifications on the way the press report on police investigations.

In the Guardian, Roy Greenslade said if Sir Cliff won the case the media’s role as a public watchdog would be “fatally compromised”. 

Mick Hume, writing in the Sun, said: “The public fall-out from his privacy case could have a shocking and upsetting impact on the ability of the media to report the facts.”