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BBC and privacy: Why the BBC may not want to talk anymore about Sir Cliff

One of the recurring topics that cropped up in our many GDPR sessions recently was, unlikely though it may sound, Sir Cliff Richard.

There was a reason.

As you’ll likely know, Sir Cliff has been in a legal dispute with the BBC.

Although the grounds of action were partly based on the human right to privacy, he was also relying on an argument that the BBC had breached his data protection rights, and the court’s decision is now to hand.

The background to the case was the significant coverage the BBC gave to a police raid on Sir Cliff’s Yorkshire home in 2014.

This included the BBC conveniently having a helicopter overhead just as the police were entering the property. All this took place under the spread of the Yewtree investigations.

Despite the sensational nature of the raid and the lurid (and wholly unsubstantiated) allegations against Sir Cliff, it was genuinely the data protection angle I was most interested in.

This meant I awaited the court decision with an excitement I had not felt for a new release featuring Sir Cliff since the heady days of Wired for Sound.

Unfortunately, the actual decision was a disappointment. As you will no doubt have picked up from the news, Sir Cliff won his case. This was not my cause for disappointment.

Instead my disappointment was that the judge focussed on the human rights case, and decided he did not need to rule on the separate data protection claim.

Unfortunate, but I will try to see the glass as half full.

The decision and witnesses

If you are interested in freedom of expression and the rights of the press, you can read the decision here.

In fairness it does make interesting reading; however, I fear it may be one of these cases where what looks like the right result on the facts is actually more troubling from a legal position.

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to story of a 77-year-old man being humiliated by the state broadcaster, but what about more dubious characters?

If you are not interested in press freedom, but enjoy seeing large institutions such as the BBC get a judicial kicking, you may also find plenty to enjoy.

In the first few pages, there is a summary of the witnesses including those whom the judge found to be reliable or otherwise.

The comments on the BBC’s witnesses are found in paragraphs 20 to 28 —

  • A BBC journalist allowed his “enthusiasm for the story to get the better of his complete regard for the truth on occasions.”
  • The (then) BBC news editor was “unduly defensive and to a degree evasive” and was not always a “reliable witness.”
  • The (then) head of newsgathering was at times “overly guarded” about parts of the BBC defence and at times “almost wilfully” failed to acknowledge inconsistencies while also “refusing to acknowledge the plain effect of” some of the evidence.
  • Another BBC manager’s had aspects of his evidence deemed “particularly unsatisfactory” with the “totality of his evidence” needing to be “approached with caution.”

Surprisingly enough, the fact part of the evidence led by the BBC was found wanting has not as yet been the focus of Auntie’s own coverage of the story.

Finally, just in case you were concerned, Sir Cliff was a “compelling witness” and his evidence accepted in full.

Kirk Tudhope

With a particular interest in data protection and GDPR, including the appropriate handling of employee personal data, Inverness-based partner Kirk Tudhope heads the firm’s employment law team, he regularly represents employers, including private and public sector organisations, at employment tribunals.

Posted, 19 July 2018 by Kirk Tudhope
Categories: Data protection