09:06, August 15 243 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-15 09:06:06
BBC will not appeal against Cliff Richard privacy victory

The BBC will not appeal against Cliff Richard’s landmark privacy victory, leaving the corporation facing a bill for millions of pounds following the conclusion of a four-year legal battle.

The singer is now clear to claim substantial damages as a result of the BBC’s decision to report in 2014 that the singer was being investigated by police regarding historical child sexual assault claims.

No charges were ever brought and Richard successfully sued, arguing that the decision to report on the case and use a helicopter to film a police raid on his house was an unjustified invasion of his privacy.

The broadcaster has now decided it does not stand a realistic chance of overturning last month’s judgment. The ruling appeared to set a precedent that would restrict the ability of the media to factually report that an individual is under investigation by the police before any charges have been brought, raising concerns about media freedom.

Despite declining to appeal the BBC has now decided to launch a fightback by writing to the government and asking for parliament to clarify the law in this area, with the support of other media outlets.

The judge in the case, Mr Justice Mann, who has already blocked one request for an appeal, insisted his ruling does not impose a blanket ban on the reporting of the subject of a criminal investigations.

Instead, he said that an individual under investigation starts with a reasonable expectation of privacy “that can give way to countervailing factors” such as the safety of the public or the desire to flush out potential witnesses or victims.

The Richard case proved to be embarrassing for the BBC and senior executives, who were forced to recount and justify – sometimes in excruciating detail – the process involved in deciding to run the story, which came at the end of a series of historic sexual abuse cases involving ageing entertainment stars in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

The decision not to seek an appeal has potential repercussions for internal BBC politics. A further defeat could have enshrined the ruling in law and increased the BBC’s costs, while putting further pressure on the executives involved in the story.

They include Fran Unsworth, the current BBC director of news and current affairs, who ultimately signed off the decision to use the footage in 2014. Following the initial verdict she said there were some things that could have been “done differently” but it marked a “significant shift” against press freedom.

The BBC has already agreed to pay the singer £850,000 to cover his legal fees, although Richard insists he spent more than £4m fighting the case.