Sir Cliff the BBC and a claim of misuse of private information

Sir Cliff Richard began proceedings against South Yorkshire Police and the BBC back in October 2016, the action was based on a claim of misuse of private information and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. The action revolved around a BBC journalist being told about a raid on Sir Cliff’s home, and subsequently the BBC was able to broadcast coverage of the raid with a helicopter and photographers.

It was alleged that the information regarding the search was obtained by the BBC as part of a “tip off” arrangement with South Yorkshire Police. The allegations provided that South Yorkshire Police would give tips to the BBC in advance from an Operation Yewtree source.

In the BBC’s defence these allegations were not addressed, the BBC claimed that it was not under an obligation to disclose any information regarding its sources. Sir Cliff, on the other hand, disputed this and applied for an order that would require the BBC to deny or confirm the allegations that it had obtained the information from a Operation Yewtree source or, on the alternative, someone who had obtained the information from the operation and then passed it to the BBC. It should be noted, Sir Cliff did not wish to name or identify the source.

Naturally, the BBC opposed the application claiming that if it were to answer the allegation it risked identifying the source of the information. It was stated that as the relevant legal tests found within section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 for applications of source disclosure were not satisfied the application should be dismissed.

Mann J disagreed with the BBC, the Judge found that the risk of identifying the individual source was so low that section 10 of the 1981 Act was not engaged. It was right for a balancing test to be carried out between the BBC and Sir Cliff’s competing rights and interests and when carrying out the balancing test, it was found in favour of Sir Cliff.

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