Sir Cliff’s case against the BBC (Sir Cliff Richard OBE v (1) The British Broadcasting Corporation (2) Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police ) following the raid on his home in August 2014 was billed as of “enormous importance” in relation to whether the media are able to identify a suspect pre-charge, as well as having “massive implications” for the reporting of early phases of police investigations. The first trial of its kind in this country, this article considers the ramifications of this High Court decision on the press reporting of those subject to police investigation.
On the morning of the 14 August 2014, the Berkshire home of Sir Cliff Richard was searched by South Yorkshire Police (‘SYP’) in connection with allegations of historic child sexual abuse. The BBC broadcast the search more or less as it was taking place, giving it extensive coverage, including aerial shots by helicopter. The story was then picked up by other news media extending its coverage both in this country and aboard. Sir Cliff was not in the UK while his home was searched but viewed the broadcast. He was subsequently questioned about the allegations but was neither arrested or charged and was told in 2016 that he was no longer under investigation.
At the heart of Sir Cliff’s claim was a challenge to media organisations in the reporting about those named by police as being subject to investigation for serious criminal offences. In the face of increasing concern about the public naming of suspects questioned about historic sex offences, the Home Affairs Select Committee had recommended that those accused of such offences should be entitled to anonymity up to the point of charge (HC 962, Pre-Charge Bail, Seventeenth Report of Session 2014-15).
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