Cliff Richard: Singer wins BBC privacy case at High Court

Media caption,
The singer wins BBC privacy case at High Court but how did it get to this

Sir Cliff Richard has won his privacy case against the BBC over its coverage of a police raid on his home.

High Court judge Mr Justice Mann awarded an initial £210,000 in damages.

The singer claimed the BBC's reporting of the 2014 raid, which was part of an investigation into historical child sex allegations, was a "serious invasion" of privacy. He was never arrested or charged.

The BBC said journalists acted in good faith and it is considering an appeal.

Speaking outside the High Court in London, the BBC's director of news and current affairs Fran Unsworth apologised to Sir Cliff and said: "In retrospect, there are things we would have done differently."

But, she said, the case marked a "significant shift" against press freedom and an "important principle" around the public's right to know was at stake.

Media caption,
The BBC's director of news says the ruling is a "significant shift against press freedom"

In his judgement, Mr Justice Mann said the BBC had infringed Sir Cliff's privacy rights in a "serious" and "sensationalist" way.

He rejected the BBC's case that its reporting, which included footage filmed from a helicopter, was justified under rights of freedom of expression and of the press.

Mr Justice Mann said a suspect in a police investigation "has a reasonable expectation of privacy" and while Sir Cliff being investigated "might be of interest to the gossip-monger", there was not a "genuine public interest" case.

He also said while the case could have a "significant impact on press reporting", it did not mean the law was changing or he was setting a precedent - as the Human Rights Act already covers the issues at stake, namely the right to privacy versus right to freedom of expression.

'Choked up'

He awarded Sir Cliff £190,000 damages and an extra £20,000 in aggravated damages after the BBC submitted its coverage of the raid for an award.

The BBC must pay 65% of the £190,000 and South Yorkshire Police, which carried out the raid, 35%.

South Yorkshire Police had earlier agreed to pay Sir Cliff £400,000 after settling a claim he brought against the force.

At court, Sir Cliff told the BBC he was "choked up" at the judgement, adding: "It's wonderful news."

Fans supporting him sang the singer's hit Congratulations as the judgement was announced.

Media caption,
Fans of Sir Cliff Richard cheered and sang his 1968 song Congratulations outside court

The 77-year-old singer took legal action against the BBC over broadcasts of a South Yorkshire Police raid on his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014.

Officers were investigating an allegation made by a man who claimed he was sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff at an event at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane in 1985 when he was a child.

Analysis: 'Dark day for news reporting'

By BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman

Today's judgement is very significant.

The judge found it was not merely the BBC's use of helicopter pictures which breached Sir Cliff's right to privacy. The simple naming of Sir Cliff as a suspect in the police investigation amounted to a breach of his privacy.

It means, going forward, people who are suspects in police investigations, save in exceptional circumstances, are entitled to reasonably expect the matter is kept private and not covered by the media.

That is why the BBC is broadening this out and saying, in effect, this is a dark day for news reporting.

Looking at some of the police investigations covered in the past, the BBC points out that naming the suspects has sometimes resulted in additional complainants coming forward.

Standing alongside Sir Cliff outside court, his solicitor Gideon Benaim said the singer's motivation was "not for personal gain" but to "right a wrong".

Mr Benaim said Sir Cliff, who has sold 250 million records since he began performing in 1958, had "never expected his privacy and reputation would be tarnished in this way".

He said his client had offered to settle earlier with the BBC for "reasonable" damages and an apology, but the BBC had been "defiant".

Media caption,
Sir Cliff Richard's lawyer said the singer "aimed to right a wrong"

The case raised "serious questions", he said, about the way BBC management scrutinises the work of its journalists and how the BBC focused on preserving an exclusive story rather than respecting Sir Cliff's rights.

Sir Cliff told reporters he would not comment further at that time, adding: "It's going to take a while to get over the whole emotional factor."

Later, he told ITV News the judgement was "just the most wonderful relief".

He said he "couldn't speak" and his "eyes were watering" in the court room.

'Creative limbo'

Responding to the judgement, South Yorkshire Police chief constable Stephen Watson said he accepted the findings and the force accepted and apologised for its mistakes at a "very early stage".

"I would like to take this opportunity to again offer our sincere apologies for the distress Sir Cliff Richard has suffered," he added.

The judge said he would hold another hearing to determine further damages after the singer said his plans for "professional work" were "seriously disrupted" in the wake of the coverage.

He said that in the years leading up to August 2014, he had worked regularly, released a new album every 18 months or so and usually played a number of concerts.

But he said he had been left "in effect in creative limbo" for two years until prosecutors said he would not face any charges.

Sir Cliff claimed his right to privacy under the Human Rights Act had been violated while the BBC argued that the same act protects freedom of expression.

Image source, REUTERS/Toby Melville
Image caption,
Presenter Gloria Hunniford returned to the High Court to support her friend Sir Cliff

TV and radio presenter Gloria Hunniford, who told the trial her friend Sir Cliff felt "violated and betrayed" by the BBC's report, returned to the High Court for the judgement.

She later told the BBC that Sir Cliff spent £4m on his case.

Ms Hunniford said it was a "landmark case" and thought it would "eventually change the law", meaning suspects could have anonymity until they are charged with an offence.

She said Sir Cliff had been distraught and was so upset he had only returned to the flat for five minutes after the raid before he went on to sell it.

What was a "total invasion of privacy" for Sir Cliff, she said, was footage from a camera zooming in on police searching inside his home.

'Recognise responsibilities'

Conservative MP Anna Soubry also called for a law change at Prime Minister's Questions.

Citing what she dubbed "Cliff's' law", Ms Soubry said: "Suspects should not be named by the media until such time as they are charged."

In response, Theresa May said it was a very "difficult issue" and needed "careful judgement".

"There may well be cases where the publication of a name enables other victims to come forward and therefore strengthen a case," the prime minister said.

She also said both the police and media "have to recognise their responsibilities".

Image source, Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Image caption,
Fans of Sir Cliff were outside the court

BBC director of editorial policy and standards David Jordan told BBC Radio 4's World At One the judgement could have a "chilling effect" on the ability of the media to report when somebody is the subject of a police investigation.

He said the BBC will look in depth at the 200-page judgement before deciding on whether or not to appeal.

The judge was also critical of various BBC witnesses who gave evidence.

Gary Smith, the BBC's UK news editor at the time and now head of news at BBC Scotland, was "obsessed" with scooping rivals which "probably affected some of his judgement" at the time of the coverage, he said.

Ms Unsworth, who gave final approval for the story, was also, but to a lesser extent, "affected by the desire to protect the scoop" at the time while Dan Johnson, the reporter who broke the story, was "not dishonest" but let his "enthusiasm get the better of him".