BBC bosses say Sir Cliff Richard spent ‘disproportionate’ sums on lawyers after he demanded compensation because the broadcaster named him as a suspected sex offender and filmed a police raid on his house.
They say figures show the singer has already run up legal costs of more than £500,000 and lawyers representing the BBC made the criticism as a judge analysed the latest stage of the dispute at a High Court hearing in London on Thursday.
If Sir Cliff’s claim succeeds, and he wins damages, the BBC could be ordered to pick up all his lawyers’ bills.
BBC editors have said they will “defend ourselves vigorously”.
“The claimant’s budget shows pre-action costs of £525,437, including 1,287 hours of solicitors’ time,” Gavin Millar QC, who heads the BBC’s legal team, told the judge in a written submission.
“Though not without its legal complexities, this case cannot have required extensive factual investigations on behalf of the claimant: the broadcasts are in the public domain.”
He added: “On any view … the claimant’s incurred costs to date are grossly unreasonable and disproportionate.”
Mr Millar said the judge should record “strong disapproval”.
Detail of Sir Cliff’s claim emerged last year in paperwork lodged at the High Court by lawyers.
Mr Justice Mann is overseeing the latest in a series of preliminary hearings in London.
Sir Cliff was not at the hearing which is due to end on Friday.
He is suing the BBC over reports naming him as a suspected sex offender and wants damages.
Lawyers said the judge was considering a number of legal issues before a planned trial.
Lawyers representing Sir Cliff said in written submissions in October that he had suffered “profound and long-lasting” damage.
In December a BBC spokeswoman said bosses would defend the coverage. S
he said the BBC had reported Sir Cliff’s “full denial of the allegations at every stage”.
In June, South Yorkshire Police apologised “wholeheartedly for the additional anxiety caused” by the force’s “initial handling of the media interest” in its investigation.