Mr Justice Mann today handed down judgment in the case of Sir Cliff Richard OBE v BBC [2018] EWHC 1837 (Ch)).  The Judge held that the BBC’s reporting infringed Sir Cliff’s privacy rights. General and aggravated damages of £210,000 were awarded. A further hearing will be held to assess special damages.

The case arose out of the disclosure by the South Yorkshire Police (“SYP”) and the BBC of the fact that Sir Cliff was under investigation for alleged sexual offences and covering the search of his English property in various broadcasts in August 2014.

The main area of disputed fact was whether the SYP volunteered information to the BBC or whether it was manoeuvered into providing it from a fear and implicit threat that the BBC would or might publish news of the investigation before the police were ready to conduct their search.  The judge found that SYP did not merely volunteer the material for its own purposes; it provided it because of a concern that if it did not do so there would be a prior publication by the BBC, a concern known to and probably fostered by the BBC’s reporter, Mr Dan Johnson.

On the legal issues the Judge held that

(a)   “As a matter of general principle, a suspect has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to a police investigation.” [248]  On the facts of this case, Sir Cliff had a legitimate expectation of privacy in relation to the fact of the investigation and the fact of the search of his apartment.  This was not lost or removed by the fact that the information had come into the hands of the media [259].

(b)  The publication of Sir Cliff’s identity did not contribute to a debate of general interest:

Knowing that Sir Cliff was under investigation might be of interest to the gossip-mongers, but it does not contribute materially to the genuine public interest in the existence of police investigations in this area. It was known that investigations were made and prosecutions brought. I do not think that knowledge of the identity of the subject of the investigation was a material legitimate addition to the stock of public knowledge for these purposes” [282].

Overall, the BBC was not justified in publishing by virtue of its rights of freedom of expression.

(c)  As a result there was an infringement of Sir Cliff’s privacy rights and the BBC should pay £190,000 general damages (which included damages for damage to reputation) and a further £20,000 aggravated damages arising from the fact that the BBC submitted the broadcast for the “Scoop of the Year” award.

(d)  Legal causation has been established in respect of certain sample special damages claims

(e) The damages for which both the BBC and SYP are liable shall be apportioned 65:35 as between the BBC and SYP.

A statement was read outside court [pdf] by Gideon Benaim of Simkins LLP on behalf of Sir Cliff.

The BBC has issued a statement about the decision in which it said that

“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 investigation”

It was suggested that there was a significant principle at stake and, as a result, the BBC was looking at an appeal.