Sir Cliff Richard has dismissed suggestions press freedom is at risk after winning a privacy battle against the BBC over its coverage of a police raid on his home, saying the corporation’s coverage was “anarchic”.
On Wednesday, the 77-year-old star was awarded £210,000 in damages over the reporting of the police investigation following an historic child sexual assault allegation.
The High Court judge explained that the BBC infringed Sir Cliff’s privacy rights “without justification”. BBC bosses said they were considering an appeal.
In an interview with ITV News after the verdict, Sir Cliff was asked whether the judgement could curtail press freedom.
He said: “I will fight to the death against the abuse of the freedom of speech, what the BBC did was an abuse because it seems to ignore anything that was ever stated - Magna Carta, Leveson, the police and they took it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner.”
He added: “Freedom without responsibility is anarchy. To me this was an anarchic thing to do.”
Editors have warned of “worrying consequences” for press freedom after Sir Cliff’s win, with specialist lawyers saying the judge’s ruling on the case will have implications for journalists.
The BBC said the coverage was accurate and in good faith, and put forward a public interest defence – saying sexual abuse of children was a matter of serious public concern. The corporation said reporting might encourage victims to come forward.
The judge said Sir Cliff would be awarded £190,000 in damages. He is also awarded a further £20,000 in aggravated damages due to the BBC’s decision to nominate the story for the Royal Television Society’s ‘Scoop of the Year’ award.
ITV’s Julie Etchingham: Let’s look at the ramifications of this. You could single-handedly curtail press freedom?
Sir Cliff Richard: Does anybody want to do that? I don’t want to do that. I want a correction made to what happened to me and it was made. Nobody said anything about freedom of speech but I will fight to the death against the abuse of the freedom of speech. What the BBC did was an abuse because it seemed to ignore everything ever stated by Magna Carta, Leveson, the police. They took it upon themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner. That’s the abuse of it.
The press needs to be able to cover investigations ... to scrutinise the police…
Yes, but not those who are being investigated. That’s clear from this judgement, even I, and I believe the opposition tried to say because I was a prominent figure I didn’t deserve the privacy that the man in the street has. I may be prominent but I am not fodder. I refuse to be fodder. That’s the mistake they make. We have to stop being women and men. As soon as you start being human you realise that’s what counts. A journalist has to be a human being so you can cover the story.
Police told them there was an investigation going on but they didn’t have to tell the world who was being investigated. We wouldn’t be talking about this now if they had not named me and the investigation had gone on. It was thrown out eventually. No-one would have known I was investigated and I would never have gone through the emotional trauma this has caused me. It’s going to take a while. Even now, I can’t believe I’m not over it yet. The press and journalism even television. Everyone has to be very careful now about how they treat people as human beings.
But we know the context in which this investigation emerged don’t we? We know the cases in which the person being investigated was named and other victims in those circumstances came forward and built the case…
But in the end they were found innocent though in many cases.
But some of them weren’t, Sir Cliff. Some of them weren’t…
Ten guilty and one innocent, that’s my big argument. I’d rather ten guilty people get away with it than one innocent person suffer. There is no reason for that. If the police had found enough to prosecute me, I would have been charged and then I could have been named and if you’re charged, it might take two years, your name is out, where other victims could come forward if it’s true and even then the court of law could pass that person as innocent.
Asked whether a story about one of the nation’s biggest celebrities was a matter of public interest, he said: “But it’s a lie against one of the biggest celebrities in our nation. It’s a lie. You can’t possibly motivate anything in my mind to say that was correct. I think it was a big, big mistake. You can’t have huge institutions. You can’t have law and judges who are going to make mistakes.”
When pressed whether that was “part of our democracy. It’s freedom of expression…”, he responded: “What about my freedom? We can talk about freedom. Freedom goes all sorts of ways. Freedom without responsibility is anarchy. It’s anarchy. To me this was an anarchic thing to do.”
After the judgement, Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “The ruling to make it unlawful that anyone under investigation can be named is a major step and one that has worrying consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know.
“In many situations, the publishing of the name of someone under investigation has led to other witnesses and victims coming forward. We should also consider that the reverse is true.”
He added: “It is vital that the actions of the police should be kept under scrutiny in a free society and this change in the law will make that much harder.”
Lawyer Nicola Cain, who works at law firm RPC, said: “This is a landmark judgment in many ways, all of which are bad for the media.”
She added: “The media is going to have to walk on eggshells when reporting on police investigations from now on.”
Sir Cliff also said it would “it would be deserved” if heads were to roll at the BBC after winning a privacy battle against the broadcaster over its coverage of a police raid on his home.
He said: “They (senior managers) have to carry the can.
“I don’t know how they are going to do it, but they’ll have to. If heads roll then maybe it’s because it was deserved.
“It’s too big a decision to be made badly. It was nonsense.”
Mr Justice Mann awarded Sir Cliff around £200,000 to cover the “general effect” on his life.
He 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.
He was never arrested and in June 2016 prosecutors announced he would face no charges.
Mr Justice Mann said the BBC infringed the star’s privacy rights in a “serious” and “somewhat sensationalist” way.
“I do not believe that this justification was much in the minds of those at the BBC at the time,” he said in a ruling.
“I think that they, or most of them, were far more impressed by the size of the story and that they had the opportunity to scoop their rivals.”