LONDON – British rock icon Cliff Richard was awarded 210,000 pounds ($273,000) in damages Wednesday after winning a privacy lawsuit against the BBC for its coverage of a police raid at his home.
Richard had sued the broadcaster for its coverage of the 2014 raid, when police were investigating alleged sex offences. The coverage included a helicopter that circled the star’s home as authorities conducted a search.
The 77-year-old singer was never arrested or charged with any crime. Police don’t normally identify people suspected of crimes in Britain until they are charged. His lawsuit claims he suffered “profound” damage to his reputation.
The BBC disputed his claims and editors said the coverage was done in good faith.
BBC Director of News Fran Unsworth said the story was accurate, and that the decision will affect every news media organization in Britain. The broadcaster will consider an appeal.
“It will make it harder to scrutinize the conduct of the police and we fear it will undermine the wider principle of the public’s right to know. It will put decision-making in the hands of the police,” she said. “We don’t believe this is compatible with liberty and press freedoms, something that has been at the heart of this country for generations.”
Lawyer Emma Woollcott with the firm Mishcon de Reya said the judgment “vindicates” Richard’s view that the BBC’s reporting was intrusive. She said the judge acknowledged there was legitimate public interest in reporting investigations of historic sex abuse but that the BBC’s reporting was excessive.
“No doubt we will now see further claims from high-profile individuals who have suffered intensive media coverage and public scrutiny,” she said.
Richard shot to fame in Britain after Elvis Presley had his first hits and before the Beatles burst on the scene. He has been a remarkably durable entertainer whose record sales have made him one of Britain’s most successful solo acts.
Richard received a knighthood in 1995 for his charitable works. He is planning a fall tour of Britain, Ireland and Denmark to mark his 60th year in the music business.
Richard appeared outside the London courthouse, but was too emotional to speak, saying it was “going to take a little while” before he was prepared to fully comment. Fans who had gathered to support him sang a refrain of his hit song “Congratulations” as he left with his legal team.
Richard has said he experienced a “sense of panic and powerlessness” when he saw the BBC was broadcasting from a helicopter above his home.