UK News

BBC won't appeal judge's ruling on Cliff Richard coverage

Earlier this month a High Court judge ruled that BBC coverage of a raid on Sir Cliff Richard's home was a "very serious" invasion of the singer's privacy
Sian Harrison, Press Association

THE BBC has said it will not challenge a High Court judge's ruling after it lost a legal battle with Sir Cliff Richard over its coverage of a police raid on his home.

The 77-year-old singer sued over BBC coverage of a South Yorkshire Police search of his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014, following a child sex assault allegation.

Earlier this month Mr Justice Mann ruled in Sir Cliff's favour following a High Court trial in London.

The judge concluded the BBC's coverage was a "very serious" invasion of the singer's privacy and awarded Sir Cliff £210,000 damages.

He said the award would be made up of £190,000 to cover the "general effect" coverage had on Sir Cliff's life, plus £20,000 because the BBC had aggravated harm by nominating coverage for an award.

The BBC was refused permission to challenge the ruling by Mr Justice Mann at a hearing in July.

In a statement on Wednesday, the corporation announced it would no longer be pursuing an appeal against the judgment.

Instead, director general Tony Hall has written to the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC and asked him to consider a review of the law on naming people involved in police investigations.

The organisation reiterated its view that the ruling "represents a dramatic shift against press freedom".

Mr Justice Mann previously said his judgment did not amount to a "blanket" restriction on journalists.

The BBC repeated its apology to Sir Cliff for the distress caused and said: "We fully appreciate the impact this has had on him.

"There are lessons for the BBC in how we reported this story and we will think very carefully about our approach in the future - both in tone and style.

"We recognise there are things we got wrong - even if all the facts we reported were right."

The corporation said appealing "would inevitably mean an expensive legal cul de sac and one that would simply prolong Sir Cliff's distress".

It said: "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."

Mr Justice Mann heard that, 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 1985, when he was a child.

Metropolitan Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.

Sir Cliff denied the allegation, was never arrested and in June 2016 prosecutors announced he would face no charges.

His spokesman said: "Sir Cliff reluctantly took his case to court because he felt his privacy had been flagrantly invaded and disappointingly the BBC were not prepared to acknowledge that and apologise.

"He welcomes the fact the BBC have decided not to seek permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal, particularly after the judge gave his judgement that they had no grounds on which to pursue such an action.

"Sir Cliff now hopes that outstanding issues can be resolved quickly."

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office said the matters raised in the BBC letter do not fall within the Attorney General's remit and it has therefore been redirected to the relevant government departments.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: "This judgment poses a significant threat to journalists' ability to report on criminal trials in future.

"It is disappointing that there will be no formal appeal.

"However, in the light of the legal advice and financial constraints our public service broadcaster is under following the last woeful licence fee settlement, the BBC's decision is an understandable one.

"This is an issue of broader concern to all who care about journalism and the ability of journalists to do their jobs well.

"The NUJ therefore welcomes the call for an urgent review and clarification of the law in light of this judgment."

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