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

Nicola Slawson

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, had 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.

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.”