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BBC won’t appeal Cliff Richard police raid ruling

By | Published on Thursday 16 August 2018

Cliff Richard

The BBC has decided not to appeal last month’s court ruling, which said that the broadcaster infringed the privacy rights of Cliff Richard when it covered a police raid on his home in 2014.

The Beeb was ordered to hand Richard £210,000 in general and aggravated damages, and subsequently committed to pay the singer an additional £850,000 towards his legal costs. However, the Corporation had said it might appeal the ruling because it felt the judgement set a dangerous precedent regarding the reporting of police investigations in the UK.

Police raided a property in Berkshire owned by Richard as part of an investigation into allegations of historical sexual abuse. That investigation didn’t lead to any charges. The BBC’s coverage of the raid was somewhat sensationalist, and Richard argued it infringed his privacy rights and – in doing so – damaged his reputation.

For its part, the BBC has more recently apologised to Richard and admitted that the nature of its coverage in 2014 was perhaps inappropriate. However, it noted that the judge hearing the case ruled that by merely naming Richard as the subject of the police investigation the BBC had infringed the pop star’s right to privacy. And that, the Corporation argued, set a new precedent in UK media law that affected all news providers.

Nevertheless, the BBC will not appeal the judgement. Instead it says it will write to the government and request that it instigate a review of this area of the law.

Again apologising to Richard and accepting that there were lessons for it to learn from this whole fracas, the BBC said yesterday: “Despite this, the judgment creates new case law and represents a dramatic shift against press freedom. In his ruling, the judge himself stated ‘the case is capable of having a significant impact on press reporting’. It raises significant questions over how the media can report investigations in the future – and creates huge uncertainty over what might qualify as being in the public interest”.

It went on: “We accept the BBC and the rest of the media have a duty to be sensitive to the rights and position of those who are under investigation, and in some cases there will be little public interest in naming individuals. However, this ruling will limit the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations – many cases of which have resulted in further complainants coming forward. It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and it will undermine the principle of the public’s right to know. These concerns have been widely echoed by many other media organisations”.

Because of all these concerns, the BBC says it did seriously consider taking the matter to the court of appeal. Its decision not to go that route is mainly down to the legal advice it received to the effect that there was a very high chance appeal judges would uphold the lower court ruling.

The Corporation said: “The legalities are complex, but essentially – even though we are advised and believe that the judge erred in law in finding that broadcasters and journalists normally have no right to publish the name of a person who is the subject of a criminal investigation – it will be very difficult to persuade the Court Of Appeal to isolate this issue of principle from the judge’s broader findings in this case. The judgment has been written in a way that makes the two indivisible”.

Concluding, the BBC said in its statement: “Given this advice the BBC will not be appealing. It would inevitably mean an expensive legal cul de sac and one that would simply prolong Sir Cliff’s distress. Instead the BBC is writing today to ask the government to consider a review of the law in this important area to protect the right to properly and fairly report criminal investigations, and to name the person under investigation. There is a fundamental principle of press freedom at stake here and one upon which we believe Parliament, as our lawmakers, should decide”.

Other media organisations have already backed the BBC’s call for a government review of this area of law. And that includes the Society Of Editors, whose Executive Director Ian Murray said: “Parliament should now urgently consider whether such a step towards individual privacy against the protection of society’s overall liberties is acceptable. The Society recognises that the sympathies of the public may well be strongly with Sir Cliff on this issue and in this particular case, but there are bigger issues at stake that, if unchallenged, will affect the liberties of all citizens”.

Needless to say, a representative for Richard welcomed the BBC’s decision, adding that he hoped that all “outstanding issues can [now] be resolved quickly”.