HomeInsightsSir Cliff Richard’s action against the police and the BBC: the thin end of the wedge?

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After saying last month that he was considering suing the BBC over its live broadcast of the police raid on his home in August 2014, Sir Cliff Richard has made good on his threat. He is suing the BBC and South Yorkshire Police for misuse of private information and claiming £1million damages. The raid was apparently undertaken as part of an investigation of child abuse allegations – found to be unsubstantiated – made against the singer. No charges have been brought and he was not arrested.

The fact Sir Cliff was not arrested may legitimately distinguish this case from  other recent claims trying to stop publication of the fact of the arrest on suspicion of criminal activity of certain other public figures.  The argument goes that an arrest is not the same as being charged, and therefore it is private information. But however much celebrities (and others) would like to prevent the public from knowing about any engagement they have with the police, as  The Press Gazette has already reported, that’s not currently the law. However uncomfortable in the short term it might be for a public figure to have the fact of an arrest published, there are very real public issues at stake here, not least with regard to police accountability that need to be protected by everyone with a real interest in free speech.