By Manuela Macchi, Partner, Keltie LLP, London, UK
In a case that is likely to have an impact on how the British press cover police investigation stories, where no criminal charges have been brought (or not yet), especially against celebrities, the English High Court, last month, awarded Sir Cliff Richard £210,000 in damages against the BBC for breaching the singer’s privacy; with further damages still to be established in relation to the loss of book deals and contracts for performances.
The broadcaster has also agreed to pay Sir Cliff £850,000 towards his legal costs and a further £515,000 to South Yorkshire Police.
The dispute started in 2014 when the singer’s mansion in Berkshire was raided by South Yorkshire Police in connection with an investigation into historic child sex abuse allegations.
The BBC had covered the story without waiting for any response from the singer and even sent a helicopter to film the raid. The police later stated that the allegations against Sir Cliff were false and that he faced no further investigation.
Sir Cliff sued the BBC accusing the broadcaster of misusing his private information and beaching his privacy. The BBC defence focused on the existence of a public interest in the story and claimed that it was justified by the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The Judge ruled that the singer’s privacy rights had been breached “in a serious and somewhat sensationalist way.” In particular, he criticised the identification of Sir Cliff Richard as the person under investigation.
Later, the Judge also refused the BBC leave to appeal his decision to the English Court of Appeal, on the basis that the reasons presented by the BBC had no real prospect of success.
Despite his stating that it was an “erroneous reading” of his decision to suggest that it imposed a “blanket restriction” on the media, the BBC, and other media organisations, expressed concern that the Court ruling, which represents new Case Law, will restrict, in future, the freedom of the press in covering police investigations, at least in their early stages.
Although the case relates to an entertainer, the ruling will also have implications for sports personalities finding themselves in similar circumstances in England!
Manuela Macchi may be contacted by e-mail at ‘Manuela.Macchi@keltie.com’