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BBC agrees to pay Cliff Richard £850,000 as judge refuses appeal in police raid reporting case

By | Published on Friday 27 July 2018

Cliff Richard

The BBC’s initial attempt to appeal last week’s ruling in its legal battle with Cliff Richard was knocked back yesterday, as it emerged it had agreed to pay the singer £850,000 towards his legal costs. The broadcaster now needs to decide whether to take the matter directly to the Court Of Appeal or just accept judge Anthony Mann’s conclusion that it infringed Richard’s privacy rights when it named the singer as the subject of a police investigation.

Richard sued the BBC and South Yorkshire Police, of course, over the former’s coverage of a police raid on his home in Berkshire in 2014. The raid was part of an investigation into allegations of historical sexual abuse that had been made against the pop star. No charges were ever pressed as a result of that investigation due to a lack of evidence.

The BBC’s coverage of the police raid was unusually sensationalist for the broadcaster, with a helicopter filming the action from above. Richard argued that the coverage infringed his privacy rights and – in doing so – damaged his reputation.

Although South Yorkshire Police – which had liaised with the BBC on its coverage – settled with Richard, the case against the Corporation went to court. And last week the judge ruled that the BBC had indeed infringed Richard’s privacy rights, adding that the broadcaster’s own right to freedom of expression did not excuse the privacy violation. The broadcaster was ordered to pay the singer general and aggravated damages of £210,000.

The BBC indicated that it might appeal that ruling almost immediately. While admitting that, with hindsight, it could and possibly should have covered the police raid in a different way, it added that it felt Mann’s ruling set a dangerous precedent. In particular, Mann had said that the mere act of naming Richard as the subject of the police investigation was an infringement of the star’s privacy rights, with or without all the sensationalist reporting layered on top.

Responding to the judgement last week, BBC Director Of News And Current Affairs, Fran Unsworth, said: “Even had the BBC not used helicopter shots or run the story with less prominence, the judge would still have found that the story was unlawful … 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”.

Lawyers for both sides in the dispute were back in court yesterday as the Beeb sought leave to appeal from Mann himself. According to the Telegraph, the BBC’s chief legal rep, Gavin Millar, argued that issues raised in this case meant that there was a “compelling reason” for an appeal to be heard. He added that last week’s ruling had implications on all media and there was a “real prospect” of success in any appeal proceedings.

He then noted that with last week’s judgement and the damages awarded “the risk is a severe chilling effect on the freedom of the press in relation to reporting police investigations”.

For their part, lawyers working for Richard unsurprisingly opposed the BBC’s request for an appeal hearing. Lead lawyer Justin Rushbrooke told the judge: “What your Lordship has done is faithfully and painfully apply the law to the facts of this case. It is about time the BBC took a realistic view of this matter”.

Mann sided with Richard’s team denying the BBC leave to appeal at this stage. Which means the broadcaster must now decide whether to go to the cost and the hassle of seeking permission to appeal Mann’s ruling from the Court Of Appeal itself.

And those costs are mounting. BBC reps confirmed yesterday that the broadcaster had agreed to pay Richard £850,000 towards his legal costs. This is in addition to the £210,000 damages awarded last week and another commitment by the Beeb to cover £315,000 in legal costs incurred by South Yorkshire Police. The BBC’s own legal costs are on top of that, and those will continue to rise if it decides to head to the court of appeal.

In a statement yesterday, the BBC defended its decision to ask Mann for leave to appeal, though added that it was yet to actually decide on its next move in this dispute. A spokesperson said: “This is a complex case and while we hadn’t decided on whether to pursue an appeal, we sought permission today in order to keep all options open”.

Again noting concerns around the precedent set in this case and the impact it could have on media reporting of police investigations in the future, the spokesperson added: “We reiterate that we are very sorry to Sir Cliff for the distress caused and have no desire to prolong this case unnecessarily, but the ruling has raised significant questions for press freedom and we are considering the best way to address these”.