JANET STREET PORTER: Sir Cliff shouldn’t have been tried by the BBC

Janet Street-Porter (pictured) says Sir Cliff Richard would have been tried by a court if he was guilty 

There are no winners in the epic court room battle between Sir Cliff Richard and the BBC. 

The 77 year old singer sued the broadcaster after they filmed a police raid on his home from a helicopter in 2014.

Not only did the BBC name Sir Cliff, who had been accused of sexual abuse by an un-named man, they transmitted the footage on the news as if it was an event of international importance, as if the UK had just declared war, or the Queen had died.

Sir Cliff was never arrested or charged by the police, and his accuser has faded into oblivion. 

For Cliff, though, the nightmare was just beginning- after the raid on his home, another four men went to the police and claimed the singer had sexually harrassed them. 

All these allegations have been dropped, and one the men involved turned out to be a convicted sex offender.

Were the BBC right to get involved, to breathlessly report on a live raid in leafy suburbia as if it was a terrorist attack in a city centre? 

The BBC have always justified their extraordinary coverage of the police raid, claiming it was ‘in the public interest’- a claim that the High Court judge has now chucked out, describing the footage as ‘sensationalist’ and ‘a serious breach of privacy’.

After a long and costly legal battle to clear his name, Cliff has been awarded £210,000 in damages in the High Court for invasion of privacy, and he will probably receive a further payout when the court rules on the damage to his professional reputation- the singer claims he has been unable to work since 2014.

Sir Cliff Richard (pictured outside London's High Court today) was awarded £210,000 in damages over the BBC's coverage of a police raid on his Berkshire home 

Sir Cliff Richard (pictured outside London’s High Court today) was awarded £210,000 in damages over the BBC’s coverage of a police raid on his Berkshire home 

As a television viewer, a former national newspaper editor and an ordinary member of the public, I can’t see how a police raid on an unoccupied luxury flat owned by a wealthy pensioner who happens to sell millions of records and who refuses to discuss his sex life with journalist, is worth sticking at the top of a news bulletin.

How was my life made more safe or in any way enriched by knowing that the man in question was Cliff Richard? 

Since the Jimmy Saville scandal, which has resulted in hundreds of historical sex abuse cases coming to light, journalists argue that naming suspects (even when evidence hasn’t been tested and may turn out to be tittle tattle or lies) is worth it because the glare of publicity encourages other victims to come forward.

The counter argument is that innocent people get dragged into the spotlight, their lives are turned upside down in the name of free speech and freedom of the press, while false accusers are protected by their anonymity. 

The broadcaster Paul Gambaccini is another high profile man who saw his life devastated after unnamed accusers went to the police. He was never charged with anything, and his health and career suffered dreadfully.

The #MeToo movement has used unsubstantiated allegations on social media to spotlight hundreds of abusers all over the world.

Dozens of victims have come forward (particularly in the case of Harvey Weinstein) as a result of one victim daring to come forward. 

And, when many of the victims tell the same story, we might be tempted to assume they are telling the truth.

But the bottom line is always, is there concrete evidence? As far as Cliff Richard is concerned, the truth of it is that the press have been fixated on his sexuality since I was a teenager. Half a century of innuendo. 

The singer (pictured today outside court) has won his High Court privacy battle against the BBC and was awarded £210,000 damages today

The singer (pictured today outside court) has won his High Court privacy battle against the BBC and was awarded £210,000 damages today

Who cares, for God’s sex. I personally don’t mind if Cliff has a thing for potted plants. It’s of no importance in the global scheme of things.

For the BBC to claim that their coverage was justified because of an important principle – the public’s right to know – is ludicrous. 

When given the verdict, they admitted ‘in retrospect, there are things we would have done differently’. 

Their legal correspondant Clive Coleman says the verdict is ‘a dark day for news reporting’ and reckons that in future anyone suspected of a crime might reasonably expect not to be named.

The BBC are now considering an appeal. In fact, they refused to settle out of court with Sir Cliff weeks ago, a decision which would have saved them (and the public who pay their licence fees) hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The South Yorkshire police, who carried out the raid, have already apologised to the singer and paid him £400,000 in damages. 

The new fine of £210,000 includes an extra £20,000 because the BBC decided to submit their footage for an award! That shows arrogance on a grand scale.

Many journalists will argue that their work uncovering injustice will be made more difficult after this decision, but I disagree. 

The work of the police and public prosecutors will be made more difficult, because they will have to decide whether to go to court and seek a ruling that a suspect can be named on a case by case basis. I’m happy with that. It might flush out some of the time-wasters.

And if anyone is to blame for squandering this press freedom, it is the BBC for losing all sense of proportion and gleefully broadcasting the destruction of an innocent man’s reputation and over-zealous policemen who could smell another celebrity scalp in the wind.

Sir Cliff said he was still getting over the emotion of it all after his lawyer slammed the BBC in a statement outside court

Sir Cliff said he was still getting over the emotion of it all after his lawyer slammed the BBC in a statement outside court

Because what I find so repugnant about the Cliff Richard case, is that it shows a national broadcaster more interested in the values of reality television and gossip than genuine news. 

One minute they want us to care about child refugees in the Yemen, the next we’re told that Cliff Richard is being raided by dozens of publicity-hungry policemen who could just as easily have waited until the singer was back in the UK from holiday, and gone round for a cup of tea and a chat.

All too often, the police team up with broadcasters and let them in on raids for news coverage – but who does it benefit? It’s all part of a long-running PR campaign to get more resources.

I’d like to know what all those macho police and BBC reporters thought a frail 77 year old pensioner was going to do when they knocked on his door that Sunday? Talk about overkill!

I’ve never bought a Cliff Richard recording, one of his cheesy calendars or even his best selling autobiography. 

Recently, I had to impersonate Cliff on Harry Hill’s TV show on ITV, and it was hard work. 

He’s not my cup of tea, but I respect his right to be considered innocent until charged and convicted in a courtroom, not on the BBC news.

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