Veteran musician Sir Cliff Richard has won £210,000 in damages, largely from the BBC, four years after it named him in a historic sex assault investigation and broadcast a police raid of his home.
Richard was never arrested or charged, and as a result initiated legal action against the BBC (which exclusively covered the raid live) and South Yorkshire Police for allowing the broadcaster to do so.
The BBC claimed it reported in good faith and has issued a lengthy statement outlining its concerns with the ruling, and how it feels press freedom is being harmed.
Early on Wednesday morning (18 July), Mr Justice Mann in central London made his decision to issue a £190,000 fine. 65% of this will be paid by the BBC, and 35% by the police force which had already been rapped to the sum of £400,000 in a separate settlement.
The fee was inflated by the BBC's decision to enter the coverage for the Royal Television Society’s scoop of the year award. A further £20,000 fee was levied at the corporation for that decision and the judge is still assessing the commercial damages caused by what he called "somewhat sensationalist" reporting.
The BBC had adopted a public interest defence, but this was dismissed by Mann who said the Beeb's coverage represented a “very serious invasion” of Richard's privacy culminating in a helicopter fly-over as the police were raiding the premises.
Officers were investigating an allegation of sexual assault dating back to an event in Sheffield in 1985.
The broadcaster issued a statement, which you can read below in its entirety. It issued an apology for its actions but underlined concerns at the ruling which it claimed could hamper press freedoms.
We are sorry for the distress that Sir Cliff has been through. We understand the very serious impact that this has had on him.
We have thought long and hard about how we covered this story. On reflection there are things we would have done differently, however the judge has ruled that the very naming of Sir Cliff was unlawful. So 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.
This judgment creates new case law and represents a dramatic shift against press freedom and the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations, which in some cases has led to further complainants coming forward.
This impacts not just the BBC, but every media organisation.
This isn’t just about reporting on individuals. It means police investigations, and searches of people’s homes, could go unreported and unscrutinised. It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and we fear it will undermine the wider principle of the public’s right to know. It will put decision-making in the hands of the police.
We don’t believe this is compatible with liberty and press freedoms; something that has been at the heart of this country for generations.
For all of these reasons, there is a significant principle at stake. That is why the BBC is looking at an appeal.
Steven Heffer, partner and head of the media and privacy team at Collyer Bristow, said: "The result of the judgment is not surprising, nor the amount of the award which is consistent with recent judgments including the phone hacking awards against the Mirror Group. However, the award of aggravated damages is unusual. In addition an award of special damages for the financial loss is rare in a breach of privacy case and could prove very expensive for the BBC. The amount will be decided at a later date unless the parties can agree on a figure."