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BBC calls for legislation review around naming criminal suspects

Following the High Court privacy verdict brought by Sir Cliff Richard, the BBC is now urging the government to review the law concerning the coverage of criminal investigations and naming of suspects.

Privacy ruling

The BBC’s recent loss in a High Court privacy case regarding the coverage of a police raid on Sir Cliff’s home will not be appealed. In 2014, the BBC filmed the raid by helicopter and broadcasted the footage, naming Sir Cliff as a suspect in historical child sexual assault claims. Charges were never brought against Sir Cliff, and he, therefore, argued that it was an "unjustified invasion of privacy". Sir Cliff was awarded £210,000 in damages by Mr Justice Mann; £190,000 to cover the disruption on Sir Cliff’s life, plus £20,000 for aggravated harm by the BBC.

A spokesperson explained that: "Sir Cliff reluctantly took his case to court because he felt his privacy had been flagrantly invaded and disappointingly the BBC were not prepared to acknowledge that and apologise."

The BBC confirmed in a statement that they had sought legal advice and did not expect an appeal to be successful. The corporation said:

"The BBC is already on record in saying that we are sorry for the distress that Sir Cliff has been through. We say so again today. We fully appreciate the impact this has had on him."

Freedom of the press

The ruling, however, sparked a debate around press freedom. The level of damages awarded to Sir Cliff has been thought to have a ‘damaging effect’ on how the media interact with suspects, making them fearful to release the identity of a suspect in case such a pay-out follows. Despite declining to appeal the verdict, BBC director general Tony Hall urged the Government reform is necessary:

"The BBC is writing today to ask the Government to consider a review of the law in this important area to protect the right to properly and fairly report criminal investigations, and to name the person under investigation."

Acknowledging the sensitive nature of reporting criminal investigations, Hall added:

"This ruling will limit the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations. It will make it harder to scrutinise the conduct of the police and it will undermine the principle of the public’s right to know."

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