Sir Cliff Richard wins privacy claim against BBC

Judge awards singer £210,000 damages for misuse of private information

Today Mr Justice Mann handed down his eagerly anticipated judgment following the trial in April and May this year of Sir Cliff Richard’s claim against the BBC for breach of privacy. 

The claim relates to the BBC’s coverage of a search of Sir Cliff’s home in Sunningdale, Berkshire carried out by South Yorkshire Police (SYP) in August 2014. The BBC named Sir Cliff as a criminal suspect and presented as part of its coverage live reporting on the ground as well as aerial footage shot from a helicopter. The story went around the world. Sir Cliff was never arrested and eventually in 2016 the CPS announced that no charges would be brought.

Earlier in the case, SYP, who were originally joined as a defendant, admitted liability to Sir Cliff in respect of their role in giving the BBC advance notice of the search, thereby facilitating the BBC’s coverage. They agreed to pay substantial damages and costs and apologised to Sir Cliff in a statement in open court.

The trial was concerned not only with Sir Cliff’s case on liability against the BBC and, if upheld, his claim against the Corporation for general and aggravated damages, but also the BBC’s and SYP’s mutual contribution claims whereby each was seeking to hold the other liable for any damage the Court determined they had both caused Sir Cliff, and certain issues (primarily causation) relating to Sir Cliff’s claim for special damages against the BBC.

The Court’s rulings on these issues were as follows:

  • The BBC was liable to Sir Cliff for infringing his privacy rights. The BBC’s public interest defence failed.
  • The BBC should pay general damages of £190,000 and aggravated damages of £20,000 in respect of that infringement.
  • Legal causation was established in respect of certain aspects of Sir Cliff’s special damages claim.
  • The damages for which both the BBC and SYP were liable was £190,000, which would be apportioned 65:35 as between the BBC and SYP.

As a matter of law, the Court also held among other things that Sir Cliff had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the police investigation, which extended to the search of his home, and which was not affected when the information in question had moved from the police to the BBC.  Furthermore, the Court ruled that damages for injury to reputation could properly form part of a compensatory award for infringement of privacy.

Absent settlement, the case will now proceed towards a second trial of the remaining issues on the claim for special damages against the BBC.

5RB’s Justin Rushbrooke QC and Godwin Busuttil (instructed by Simkins LLP) act for the Claimant. Richard Munden also appeared for the Claimant at an earlier hearing. Adam Wolanski (instructed by DWF LLP) acts for South Yorkshire Police.

The judgment and the Judge’s Executive Summary can be read here.