British singer Cliff Richard won substantial damages on Wednesday after London’s High Court ruled the BBC had breached his privacy by televising a police raid on his house which he said had left him feeling violated.
The BBC said the “dramatic” ruling would have a huge impact on the media’s ability to report police inquiries and scrutinize their conduct.
The broadcaster used helicopters to film detectives searching the home of Richard, 77, one of Britain’s best known entertainers, when he was away on holiday in August 2014 as part of an investigation into allegations of historical child sex offences.
Prosecutors later said Richard, who maintained his innocence throughout, would face no charges due to lack of evidence.
Handing down his judgment and awarding the singer $273,700 in damages, Justice Anthony Mann said the BBC had infringed Richard’s privacy rights “without a legal justification” and “in a somewhat sensationalist way”.
“I have rejected the BBC’s case that it was justified in reporting as it did under its rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” he said.
The BBC said it was considering an appeal, saying the case would have a serious impact on all media reporting because the judge had ruled that even naming Richard as a suspect was unlawful.
“This judgment creates new case law and represents a dramatic shift against press freedom and the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations,” said Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs.
“It means police investigations, and searches of people’s homes, could go unreported and unscrutinized.”
Asked in parliament whether there should be a new law to ban the naming of any suspect until they were formally charged, Prime Minister Theresa May said it was an issue that required careful judgment.
“There may well be cases where actually the publication of a name enables other victims to come forward,” May said.