Cliff Richard: BBC bosses 'should carry the can'

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Senior BBC managers have to “carry the can”, Sir Cliff Richard has said, after winning his privacy case over the coverage of a police raid on his home.

A High Court judge said the BBC had infringed the singer’s privacy rights in a “serious and sensationalist way”.

Sir Cliff was not arrested or charged over the historical child sex claim and told ITV News: “If heads roll then maybe it’s because it was deserved.”

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

The judge, Mr Justice Mann, awarded Sir Cliff an initial £210,000.

He rejected the BBC’s case that its reporting of South Yorkshire Police’s raid of Sir Cliff’s flat in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014, which included footage filmed from a helicopter, was justified under rights of freedom of expression and of the press.

Speaking to ITV’s Julie Etchingham, Sir Cliff, 77, said: “They [senior managers] have to carry the can. I don’t know how they are going to do it, but they’ll have to….

“It’s too big a decision to be made badly. It was nonsense.”

‘Judge, jury and executioner’

Describing the court’s decision as an “enormous relief” and “incredibly emotional”, Sir Cliff said his intention behind bringing the case was not to curtail press freedom.

“I want a correction made to what happened to me and it was made, nobody said anything about freedom of speech but I will fight to the death against the abuse of the freedom of speech, what the BBC did was an abuse… they took it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner.”

He went on to call for people to have the right to anonymity until they are charged.

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BBC director of editorial policy and standards David Jordan said resignations were “not necessarily the right response to every mistake that every journalist makes in a news organisation”.

He said the BBC did not regret contesting the case because a “substantial and significant” issue – concerning people being investigated by police – had been at stake.

But he said elements of the way the original report was presented – such as the length of time the BBC gave Sir Cliff to respond to the claims and “perhaps the use of the helicopter” – might have been done differently.

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

Speaking outside the High Court, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs Fran Unsworth apologised to Sir Cliff 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.

In a statement, she said: “Even had 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.”

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In his judgement, 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.

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.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson said he accepted the court’s findings and the force had accepted and apologised for its mistakes at a “very early stage”.

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.


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.


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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”.

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

‘Creative limbo’

In his evidence, Sir Cliff had said 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.

The Society of Editors said that the judgement “threatens the ability of the media as a whole to police the police”.

Ian Murray, its executive director, said: “The ruling to make it unlawful that anyone under investigation can be named is a major step and one that has worrying consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know.”

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