Sir Cliff Richard’s lawyers have told a High Court judge that the singer should get compensation at the “very top end of the scale” because BBC coverage of a police raid on his home caused him “great damage”.
The 77-year-old singer has sued the BBC over coverage of the raid – which followed a historical sex assault allegation.
- February 24, 2021
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Sir Cliff, who denied the allegation and was not charged with any offence, says he suffered “profound and long-lasting damage” as a result of coverage.
BBC editors have said they will “vigorously” defend themselves.
Mr Justice Mann today began overseeing a trial, expected to last ten days, at the High Court in London.
A barrister leading Sir Cliff’s legal team told the judge that BBC coverage of the search at the singer’s apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014 was a “very serious invasion” of privacy.
Justin Rushbrooke QC told how coverage had a “prolonged impact” on Sir Cliff. He did not give any indication of the amount Sir Cliff wanted.
But, Mr Justice Mann heard that the singer had already agreed to accept a £400,000 payment from the force which carried out the search.
Sir Cliff, who was abroad when the raid took place, had initially sued the BBC and South Yorkshire Police.
Mr Justice Mann was told in May 2017 how that dispute had been settled after the force agreed to pay the singer “substantial” damages.
The judge has now been given the figure by lawyers representing the force at the trial.
They explained in a written statement given to the judge how the force had in May 2017 agreed to pay Sir Cliff £400,000 and to pick up some of his lawyers’ bills.
“We think it is hard to imagine a case of publicity about a suspect in a police investigation which could have caused greater damage to the autonomy and dignity of the claimant,” said Rushbrooke.
He added: “We say this is a claim for an award at the very top end of the scale.”
Lawyers have told Mr Justice Mann how in late 2013, a man made an allegation to the Metropolitan Police, saying he had been sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff, during an event featuring evangelist Billy Graham at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane football stadium in Sheffield, when a child in 1985.
Metropolitan Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.
Sir Cliff denied the allegation and in June 2016 prosecutors announced that he would face no charges.
A BBC spokesman has said that the BBC had reported Sir Cliff’s “full denial of the allegations at every stage”.
“In a nutshell, it is Sir Cliff’s case that the BBC’s coverage of the search was an invasion – indeed a very serious invasion – of his privacy for which there was no lawful justification,” Rushbrooke told the judge.
“The fact and the details of the investigation which the BBC published to the world at large, along with the video footage of his apartment being searched, were private information and there was no public interest in the disclosure of this information to the millions of viewers and website readers around the world to whom it was published.
“For strong public policy reasons, persons who are under investigation but have not been charged with any offence should not be publicly named other that in exceptional circumstances – circumstances which were not present in this case.
“Moreover, even if there had been some public interest in the fact that the claimant was under investigation, the way that the BBC went about publishing the ‘story’ was so disproportionate, and so intrusive, as to render it unlawful.”
He said Sir Cliff was entitled to “very substantial” damages or compensation to reflect the “flagrant way” the BBC went about “breaching his rights”.
Rushbrooke said the BBC had used a helicopter and the broadcasts and other publications were on any view “hugely intrusive” and spoke of “massive, massive coverage”.
He added: “It is hard to encapsulate in words the sense of panic and powerlessness that must have been induced in him on August 14 2014 when he realised that the BBC were relaying instantaneously and indiscriminately around the world highly sensitive and damaging information concerning himself – all based upon an allegation of serious criminal conduct which he knew to be entirely false.”
Rushbrooke said Sir Cliff had been left with “no option” but to take legal action.
He told the judge: “What we are talking about is using TV cameras to spy into someone’s home at the time when their target is in the most vulnerable position imaginable and then serve it up to the British public as the most sensational story imaginable.”
He went on: “The coverage had a profound and continuing impact on upon almost every aspect of his life.”
Rushbrooke said a BBC newsgathering team had been “obsessive” about scooping rivals.
He complained of a “regrettable failure” to adhere to “proper standards”.
Rushbrooke told the court that a BBC journalist received a “tip-off” about the police raid on Sir Cliff‘s home from a source in Operation Yewtree, the Metropolitan Police investigation into allegations of historic sex offences.
He said: “This was a case of a journalist making use of information that must have been leaked improperly, indeed unlawfully, by someone within a highly sensitive police investigation.”
The barrister said the journalist had South Yorkshire Police, who conducted the raid, “over a barrel” and used the information from his source to “get what he wanted” from the force.
He added that it was the BBC’s choice to name Sir Cliff and film the raid on his home, despite it being “made clear” the police were not going to name him in a public statement.
Rushbrooke said the BBC news team was “determined not to be scooped” and gave Sir Cliff‘s PR team just 35 minutes notice before the 1pm broadcast.
He added: “They were desperate to be the first media organisation to break their story, and this desire not to be scooped was the predominant concern.”
He also said the BBC journalists would have known they were taking a “significant legal risk” by going ahead with the broadcast.
“They were playing with fire, but Sir Cliff was the one who got burned,” he added.
The BBC says its coverage of the police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s apartment was accurate and in good faith.
Lawyers representing BBC bosses told Mr Justice Mann that the raid was a “matter of legitimate public interest”.
Gavin Millar QC, who is leading the BBC legal team, said journalists had respected Sir Cliff’s rights as “the suspect” and “in particular the presumption of innocence”.
Millar outlined the BBC’s defence in a written statement.
He said: “Information that enabled the BBC to report these matters had been provided to it by the investigating police force knowing that it would be used by the BBC to report in this way.
“(Sir Cliff’s) challenge is framed in privacy and data protection. In addition (he) complains that the reporting damaged his reputation. It is the first time such a claim has been brought to court in this country.”
Millar said Parliament had never legislated to prevent or restrict such press reporting.
He said there was a “general consensus” that reporting on such matters was in the public interest and said by reporting in such a way the press had exercised its common law right to freedom of expression.
Millar added: “The BBC seeks to defend (Sir Cliff’s) claim, in essence, on the basis that its reporting of the search… was accurate and in good faith, was on a matter of legitimate public interest and respected the rights of (Sir Cliff) as a suspect, in particular the presumption of innocence.”