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Pop star Cliff Richard wins privacy case against BBC

3 min

London (AFP)

Veteran British pop star Cliff Richard won a privacy case against the BBC on Wednesday after it broadcast live on television a police raid on his home, in a ruling the broadcaster said went against press freedom.

High Court Judge Anthony Mann said the BBC had infringed Richard's rights in a "serious" and "somewhat sensationalist way" and awarded him at least £210,000 ($274,000, 236,000 euros) in damages.

The 77-year-old singer, Britain's first home-grown pop star, was applauded by fans as he left court, and they sang his hit song "Congratulations".

"I'm choked up. I can't believe it. It's wonderful news," Richard said.

But the BBC said it would consider an appeal, saying the ruling "represents a dramatic shift against press freedom and the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations".

Richard's home was raided in 2014 as part of an investigation into an allegation of sexual assault involving a young boy dating back to the 1980s.

The BBC coverage was picked up around the world, but he was never arrested or charged and was told in 2016 there was insufficient evidence against him.

"My life was effectively turned upside down and my reputation, worldwide, was unnecessarily damaged," the singer said at the start of the case.

- Not compatible with press freedom -

The BBC heard about the police investigation and cut a deal with South Yorkshire Police in which they agreed to delay breaking the story.

In return, the BBC was tipped off about the raid on Richard's home and was outside in advance to film detectives sweeping in, broadcasting the search live from a helicopter.

The police force has already agreed to pay Richard £400,000 after settling a claim.

The damages announced on Wednesday comprised of £190,000 plus another £20,000 "aggravated damages" because the BBC nominated the story for a "Scoop of the Year" award, which it did not win.

The judge said Richard was also entitled to further sums for the financial impact of the incident, which will be decided at a later date.

In a statement, the BBC said it was "sorry for the distress Sir Cliff has been through" and said it understood the "very serious impact" the story had.

It admitted there were "things we would have done differently, however the judge has ruled that the very naming of Sir Cliff was unlawful".

"So even had the BBC not used helicopter shots or ran the story with less prominence, the judge would still have found that the story was unlawful; despite ruling that what we broadcast about the search was accurate," it said.

It warned the case "means police investigations, and searches of people's homes, could go unreported and unscrutinised".

"It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and we fear it will undermine the wider principle of the public's right to know," it said.

"We don't believe this is compatible with liberty and press freedoms," it said, adding that it was "looking at an appeal".

Richard, who burst onto the pop scene in the late 1950s, is the third biggest-selling artist in British singles chart history, behind The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

His hits include "The Young Ones", "Living Doll", "Summer Holiday", "Mistletoe And Wine" and "The Millennium Prayer".

There has been a wave of accusations of historical sex abuse against prominent figures in Britain since 2012, when the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was revealed to be a serial paedophile.

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