Police ‘strong-armed’ into telling BBC about Sir Cliff probe

A general view of media outside the Charters Estate in Sunningdale, Berkshire, where Sir Cliff Richard has an apartment.
A general view of media outside the Charters Estate in Sunningdale, Berkshire, where Sir Cliff Richard has an apartment.

South Yorkshire Police said they were “strong-armed” into giving a BBC reporter information about an investigation into Sir Cliff Richard, a High Court judge has heard.

The BBC denied the allegation, Mr Justice Mann was told.

Sir Cliff is suing the BBC –and South Yorkshire Police – over reports naming him as a suspected sex offender.

BBC editors have said they will “defend ourselves vigorously”.

Detail of rival claims emerged at a preliminary hearing before Mr Justice Mann at the High Court in London yesterday. The singer was not at the hearing.

Sir Cliff has taken legal action against the BBC and South Yorkshire Police in the wake of coverage of a raid at his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014.

Lawyers representing Sir Cliff said in written submissions in October that he had suffered “profound and long-lasting” damage.

They said he has sold the apartment which was raided because the prospect of living somewhere which had been “so publicly violated” distressed him. They said the furore threw his “creative and business plans” into disarray – and forced him to delay the release of an album of “rock ‘n’ roll classics”.

They also said he has run up more than £1 million in lawyers’ bills.

In December, a BBC spokeswoman said bosses would defend coverage.

“As we have said on several occasions, we are very sorry that Sir Cliff Richard has suffered distress,” she said. “We have now submitted our response to this claim and will defend ourselves vigorously.”

She added: ‘’It is the BBC’s responsibility to report fully stories that are in the public interest. Police investigations into prominent figures in public life are, of course, squarely in the public interest.’’

In June, South Yorkshire Police apologised “wholeheartedly for the additional anxiety caused” to Sir Cliff by the force’s “initial handling of the media interest” in its investigation into the singer.

A barrister representing Sir Cliff yesterday outlined differing stances taken by South Yorkshire Police and the BBC.

“South Yorkshire Police’s case is that they were effectively strong-armed into co-operating,” said Justin Rushbrooke QC.

“The BBC say not so. All [a reporter] did was to say he knew that [Sir Cliff] was being investigated by South Yorkshire Police.”

The singer said his privacy was invaded and he wants “very substantial” damages.