Cliff Richard Pushes Privacy Limits After Winning BBC Damages

(Bloomberg) -- Surrounded by TV cameras and journalists outside a London court, hit singer Cliff Richard said he was "choked up" after winning substantial damages from the British Broadcasting Corp. for invading his privacy.

Richard took legal action against the broadcaster for its coverage of a police raid on his home following allegations of child sex assault. But the size of the damages -- at least 210,000 pounds ($274,000) -- also highlights the limits the British media face when reporting early-stage police investigations against well-known individuals.

"The BBC went in for an invasion of Sir Cliff’s privacy rights in a big way," Judge Anthony Mann said in his statement.

The judge downplayed Richard’s argument that the BBC’s helicopter filming of the live search of the crooner’s apartment, was an infringement of his privacy rights, saying it mattered less than the actual reporting of the raid itself. Richard was under investigation by the police for almost two years before they informed him he wouldn’t face charges.

"The media is going to have to walk on eggshells when reporting on police investigations from now on," said Nicola Cain, a partner at law firm RPC in London.

The ruling adds to a series of decisions by judges over the point at which a celebrity’s rights to privacy trump the freedom of the press to report an investigation. Judge Brian Leveson, who chaired an inquiry into phone hacking by journalists, said "the names of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press."

The BBC said it would appeal the ruling.

“This judgment creates new case law and represents a dramatic shift against press freedom and the long-standing ability of journalists to report on police investigations," Fran Unsworth, BBC director of news, said in a statement. "It will make it harder to scrutinize the conduct of the police."

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