The BBC has agreed to pay Cliff Richard $1.12 million (£850,000) within 14 days to cover costs incurred during his legal battle with the UK state broadcaster over infringement of privacy.
Authorities had been investigating allegations made by an individual who claimed he was sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff at an event at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane stadium in 1985, when he was a child. However, he was neither arrested nor charged as a result of the investigation, and the probe was dropped outright in June 2016.
Justice Mann found Richards retained a right to privacy while a suspect in a police investigation, and this took precedence over the state broadcaster's right to freedom of expression. Moreover, he found the BBC's commercial concerns far outweighed ethical considerations.
"The BBC did not quite comply with what it saw as the ethical requirements of its journalism…it was giving a lot of weight to preserving the exclusivity of its own scoop. [Staff] were very excited at the prospect of this scoop, but also very keen to preserve it as their own. The latter point is demonstrated by a number of things, including the the fear, expressed in emails, Sky News might pick up the event. It was important to get the news to broadcast for 1pm (ITN would have a lunchtime broadcast at 1.30), rather than waiting longer. That led the BBC to truncate, unfairly, the opportunity for Sir Cliff to reply before the first broadcast," Mann said.
The BBC has apologized to Sir Cliff for the distress its coverage caused, but is seeking to appeal the judgment, alleging it threatens press freedom.
Nonetheless, Barrister Gavin Millar QC, head of the BBC legal team, told a hearing July 26 it was "appropriate" for the corporation to pay any and all legal fees incurred by the 77-year-old over the course of the action — while an overall figure hasn't yet been officially disclosed, during the trial he claimed to have spent around US$4 million (£3 million.
Speaking outside court after the ruling, BBC director of news Fran Unsworth acknowledged the corporation's reporting on the case had a "very serious impact" on Richard, and things could've been done differently. However, she noted Mann had found even naming Richard would've been unlawful, which she claimed represented a "significant shift" against press freedom.
The raid of Richard's home was part of Operation Yewtree, a highly controversial police investigation into historic sexual abuse allegations involving British media personalities, launched following revelations of industrial-scale pedophilia and necrophilia perpetrated by Jimmy Savile.
The investigation, led by the Metropolitan Police Service, began in October 2012 and led to 19 arrests and several raids over a three-year period — although just seven convictions were secured.
Notable failed convictions included faded comedian Freddie Starr, arrested on four separate occasions by Yewtree officers between November 2012 and February 2014, before the Crown Prosecution Service announced he wouldn't be prosecuted three months later.
However, Starr subsequently filed a defamation claim against one of his accusers — who claimed he'd groped her in Jimmy Savile's dressing room after appearing on Clunk Click when she was 15 in 1974 — but the court dismissed the claim, on the basis the accuser had proven he'd indeed groped her.
Perhaps most infamously however, famed American-British radio presenter Paul Gambacinni — who made headlines for criticizing the BBC and mainstream media journalists alike for covering up Savile's innumerable crimes — was arrested November 2013. In October the next year, authorities announced no charges would be brought — Gambacinni referred to the period as "twelve months of trauma", in which his personal and professional lives were put on hold, and he lost around US$260,000 (£200,000) due to legal fees and loss of earnings.
"That isn't the main thing I lost. What broke my heart to lose, because it's harder to get back than money, is my unqualified belief in this country. No one loves a country as much as someone who has chosen to live in it. Imagine how I felt when that country's institutions betrayed, persecuted and abandoned me. How do I regain that unqualified belief?" Gambacinni told the Daily Telegraph.
Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of Parliament's Home Affairs Committee, said the CPS should write and apologize to the broadcaster, "explaining why the case took so long when the original police investigation was dropped for insufficient evidence a month before he was even arrested".
"Police use of the 'flypaper' practice of arresting someone, leaking details, then endlessly re-bailing them in the vague hope others come forward must come to an immediate end. It's inexcusable information about suspects is released to the media in an unattributed way. We've seen how destructive this can be to [livelihoods], causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden. Police must advocate zero tolerance on leaking names of suspects to the press before charge," Vaz added.
Witch-Hunt or Worthwhile?
Such failures led some commentators to label the Operation a ‘witch-hunt', although others argued the successful prosecutions of high profile sexual predators which arose.
For instance, Australian entertainer Rolf Harris was arrested in March 2013 for a litany of historic child abuse offences, charges which he strongly denied. Five months later, he was again arrested and charged with nine counts of indecent assault dating to the 1980s, involving two girls between 14 — 16, and four counts of producing indecent child images in 2012. In December that year, the CPS announced Harris was facing three further counts of sexual assault, involving females aged nineteen in 1984, seven or eight in 1968 or 1969, and fourteen in 1975.
His trial began May 2014 — he pleaded not guilty to all 12 charges, seven which involved an alleged sexual relationship between Harris and one of his daughter's friends. Six charges related to when she was between the ages of 13 and 15, and one when she was 19.
Harris admitted engaging in a sexual relationship with the girl, but not until she was 18. During the trial, Harris wrote to the victim's father in 1997 after the end of the relationship was shown in court, saying: "I fondly imagined everything that had taken place had progressed from a feeling of love and friendship — there was no rape, no physical forcing, brutality or beating that took place."
Three charges related to the assault of a 15-year-old Australian girl visiting the UK in 1986. Another related to the sexual assault of an eight-year-old girl who asked for his autograph at a community centre in Hampshire in 1968 or 1969.
Additional witnesses who claimed to have been assaulted in Malta, New Zealand, and Australia were called to testify against Harris, although these charges could not be pursued in the British courts.
On June 19 2014, Harris was found guilty of all 12 counts of indecent assault, and sentenced to five years and nine months in prison.
"You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all. Your reputation now lies in ruins, you've been stripped of your honours…you have no one to blame but yourself," the presiding judge said.
The sentence was subsequently referred to Attorney General Dominic Grieve after complaints it was too lenient. In July 2014, October 2014 and February 2015 it was reported Harris was being investigated by police over other alleged sexual offences. In June that year, it was also revealed he'd written a letter to a friend from HM Prison Stafford containing song lyrics highly abusive towards his female victims.
12yrs ago I went to a fancy dress as Rolf Harris.. 🤔 Don't think I'll be doing that again anytime soon. 😅😥 pic.twitter.com/Go6llhZdiY— Jonathan Hillyer (@Junipah) July 25, 2018
The publication of the letter led Liz Dux, a lawyer for the women who gave evidence at Harris' trial, to question whether he should ever be paroled, on the basis he didn't understand the severity of his crimes, and "clearly" had "contempt for his victims".
"Far from being reformed by his time in prison, it seems to have fed his perverse sense of indignation and his arrogance is undiminished. Harris has caused those he abused great harm, and by writing this letter, he continues to cause them harm," she explained.