Yesterday was a big day for Harry Webb, more usually known as Cliff Richard, still able to attract legions of older fans who can readily remember the words to songs such as Congratulations (the UK’s 1968 Eurovision entry, which lost to the Spanish, a feat he repeated in 1973. Hello Iain Dale). They were singing those words outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand as Richard won a landmark privacy case against the BBC.
As the Beeb itself reported, “Sir Cliff Richard has won his privacy case against the BBC over its coverage of a police raid on his home … High Court judge Mr Justice Mann awarded an initial £210,000 in damages … The singer claimed the BBC's reporting of the 2014 raid, which was part of an investigation into historical child sex allegations, was a ‘serious invasion’ of privacy. He was never arrested or charged”.
The BBC’s costs could run into millions; our free and fearless press, therefore, was in rapture at the news - but only up to a point. The Corporation’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman explained why this might be: “The judge found it was not merely the BBC's use of helicopter pictures which breached Sir Cliff's right to privacy. The simple naming of Sir Cliff as a suspect in the police investigation amounted to a breach of his privacy”.
There was more. “It means, going forward, people who are suspects in police investigations, save in exceptional circumstances, are entitled to reasonably expect the matter is kept private and not covered by the media”. And the press, many of whose pundits laid into the BBC when it first broke the story, are now saying more or less the same thing, which proves they would have run the exclusive, had they been given it.
Hence even the Guardian telling “Media freedom ‘under threat’ after BBC loses Cliff Richard privacy case”, while the Mail first told readers “TEARFUL CLIFF: BBC HEADS MUST ROLL” before ordering Stephen “Miserable Git” Glover over the top to claim “The BBC behaved idiotically. But [it’s a big but] I fear the judge’s ruling could let Police raid your home at 4am without facing public scrutiny”.
Similarly, the Mirror proclaims “INNOCENT STAR WINS BBC BATTLE” and then asks “Is a good day for Sir Cliff a bad day for Justice?” and the Sun thunders “CLIFF WINS £5 MILLION BBC PRIVACY CASE” and declares “Ruling Threatens To Gag Free Speech … It’s not funny … we can’t talk anymore”, proving that at least one employee at the Baby Shard bunker is old enough to remember when Richard was still making hit records.
Thus the hypocrisy: the Sun and Mail condemned the Beeb for naming Richard, but they would have done the same thing, had they had the story first. Their talk of “free speech” today shows that they want to be able to name suspects again. And what none of them want you to know is that this very subject would have been examined by Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, which our less than free and fearless Government has binned.
Privacy is one of those things that the press defends through the deployment of injunctions - hello Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks - but does not want anyone else to have. So they can name suspects before charge and not really - honest - suggest to their readers that They Done It. Privacy is for paedos, as one of their luminaries once put it.
The press likes to see the BBC suffer. It likes to see the little people suffer rather more.