Cliff Richard lawsuit opens against BBC for live report of his home being searched

The singer is calling for the broadcaster to pay "very substantial" damages

Cliff Richard lawsuit opens against BBC for live report of his home being searched

Cliff Richard leaves the Rolls Building in London, where a High Court judge has been hearing evidence in a legal battle between him and the BBC | Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

The BBC has began its defence against a lawsuit from Cliff Richard.

The singer is calling for the broadcaster to pay him "very substantial" damages after live reporting the search in August 2014 by South Yorkshire Police of the popstar's apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, as part of an investigation into a historical child sex abuse allegation.

A BBC reporter had gained prior knowledge of the raid and the corporation broadcast it as it unfolded, naming Richard in reporting.

He was abroad at the time and is said to have been shocked and humiliated by the event.

He was questioned about the alleged assault but never arrested or charged.

He is suing the corporation in a UK High Court hearing in London, which started on Thursday.

BBC editors have said they will "defend ourselves vigorously" and in court blamed South Yorkshire Police, saying the force is attempting to "shoot its messenger".

The news team argues that it got a tip-off from South Yorkshire Police about the raid and was simply reporting the facts in the public interest.

The broadcaster's legal team told the court their reporting "fully respected the presumption of innocence" of the singer.

In his opening statement on behalf of the BBC, Gavin Millar QC said that Richard's position meant that he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

He went on to argue that the BBC reporter was "exercising a fundamental human right of freedom of expression".

File photo of media presence outside the Charters Estate in Sunningdale, Berkshire, where police searched an apartment belonging to Cliff Richard | Image: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images

In Cliff Richard's legal team's opening statement, Justin Rushbrooke QC described the emotional impact it had on Richard and outlined the general damages he suffered reputationally and also "special damages" relating to the cancellation of a lucrative book deal.

The 77-year-old, wearing a purple pinstripe suit, was in court and was seen staring down at the desk in front of him when the news clips of his house being raided were played out.

Mr Rushbrooke QC argued that Richard "was subjected to media intrusion that no citizen should ever have to experience".

"No person should have to be told by a friend that they've just been named on the BBC one o'clock news about an historical sexual abuse offence allegation relating to a child," he said.

The QC went on to describe how, through email exchanges, evidence suggests that Richard's privacy was not accounted for at any point in the planning process of reporting.

He said: "This was a toxic combination of unchecked ambition from the BBC's reporter, an obsessive desire to scoop their rivals, to make the headlines and a regrettable failure to uphold standards."

During preliminary hearings lawyers said a man made an allegation in late 2013 to the Metropolitan Police, saying he had been sexually assaulted by Cliff Richard at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane football stadium when he was a child in 1985.

Metropolitan Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.

Richard denied the allegation and in June 2016 prosecutors announced that he would face no charges.

South Yorkshire Police settled its dispute with the singer and has already agreed to pay him "substantial" damages.

The case continues and is expected to last for 10 days, with South Yorkshire Police and Cliff Richard due to be heard on Friday.