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Saturday, 21 July 2018

Cliff Wins BBC Privacy Case

On 14th August 2014 police executed a search warrant at Sir Cliff Richard's former Berkshire home.

The warrant was granted in relation to Operation Yewtree - the ongoing police investigation into child sex abuse at various institutions, most notably the BBC.

Sir Cliff became the focus of police attention after an allegation that he had behaved improperly towards an adolescent boy at a 1980s Billy Graham evangelist rally in Sheffield. Owing to the Sheffield connection the Metropolitan Police, which was heading up Yewtree nationally, passed the allegations to South Yorkshire Police for further investigation.

Having first colluded with South Yorkshire Police a month before the warrant was executed, BBC journalists were positioned at various vantage points around the Sunningdale property at the time the search teams entered.

A BBC helicopter buzzed overhead as the police sifted their way through Sir Cliff's personal belongings. Voyeuristic BBC camera lenses were aimed over walls and through foliage to catch that fleeting, intimate glimpse of the 77-year-old star's turmoil.

From the outset Sir Cliff strenuously denied any wrongdoing. He has not been charged with any offences nor, to the best of our knowledge, did the search uncovered any incriminating evidence against him. As this recent judgment demonstrates, there is no stain on his character.

South Yorkshire Police has already admitted liability and paid Sir Cliff substantial damages (£400,000) and legal costs.

The High Court has just ruled that the BBC breached Sir Cliff's privacy by naming him and broadcasting footage of the search. 

In his judgement, Mr Justice Mann rejected the BBC's case that its reporting was justified under rights of freedom of expression and of the press.

He ruled that 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.

The BBC has been ordered to pay Sir Cliff damages of £210,000, but the final cost to the licence fee payer will run into several million after legal costs have been settled. To make matters worse the BBC is contemplating an appeal against the judgment, which will no doubt prove an expensive waste of time.

This is one case where the BBC really should just hold its hands up and accept liability, but yet again it seems incapable of doing so.

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