BBC editor defends live coverage of South Yorkshire Police raid of Sir Cliff Richard's home

Sir Cliff Richard
Sir Cliff Richard

A BBC editor claims live coverage of a South Yorkshire Police raid of Sir Cliff Richard's home was 'the right thing'.

Gary Smith defended the BBC's coverage of the raid, which was carried out after a child sex assault allegation was made against Sir Cliff, during a hearing at the High Court in London yesterday.

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He told Mr Justice Mann that journalists had a responsibility to report such stories and that public interest reporting often involved revealing things a famous name would prefer not to be in the public domain.

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Mr Smith, who was UK news editor for BBC News at the time of the search and is now the corporation's head of news and current affairs in Scotland, outlined his thoughts during the latest stage of Sir Cliff's claim for damages for a breach of his privacy

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Sir Cliff, 77, is suing the BBC over coverage of the police search in August 2014 and wants damages at the 'top end' of the scale.

He claims the coverage, which involved the use of a helicopter, was a 'very serious invasion' of his privacy.

The BBC disputes his claims.

Bosses say coverage of the search of the apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, was accurate and in good faith.

South Yorkshire Police tipped off a BBC reporter about the planned raid as part of a deal to avoid details of the investigation to be revealed before officers could search Sir Cliff's home.

The police force later paid Sir Cliff £400,000 in an out-of-court settlement for its actions.

"The BBC was confident we knew who the individual under investigation was," Mr Smith told the judge.

"From an editorial point of view, those making the decision (myself included) were satisfied as to the accuracy of the BBC's intelligence and that it was the right thing to do to name Sir Cliff Richard in our reporting - that is to say that it was in the public interest for the BBC as a media organisation to inform the public of the investigation.

"It was our responsibility as journalists to report upon such stories because of the considerable debate going on about whether there had been failings by the authorities in allowing certain public figures to have access to young people and what the authorities and indeed media organisations (including the BBC) knew about certain individuals.

"South Yorkshire Police's investigation into Sir Cliff Richard was part of a sequence of ongoing significant public interest stories about police investigations into public figures for sexual abuse."

Mr Smith said the BBC had reported investigations into a number of high-profile figures, including entertainer Rolf Harris, publicist Max Clifford, presenter Paul Gambaccini and comedian Jimmy Tarbuck.

He said those reports had not attracted legal complaints over breach of privacy.

Mr Tarbuck and Mr Gambaccini had been investigated and arrested but not charged, he said, while Harris and Clifford were convicted of sexual offences.

"Sir Cliff Richard would have been the biggest household name to be under investigation," he said.

"I say this in the sense that he was and is a high-profile public figure whose public status went beyond his success as an entertainer.

"He was known for his charitable work and was 'part of the establishment' in many ways."

Sir Cliff always denies the allegation that he sexually assaulted a boy during a Christian concert at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, in the mid 1980s and was never charged.