Sir Cliff Richard in ‘open justice’ battle over evidence after suing BBC

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Sir Cliff Richard is at the centre of an “open justice” dispute after suing the BBC over coverage on a police raid on his home.

The singer’s lawyers say evidence presented by the BBC contains sensitive and private information which is not in the public domain and should not be aired at a pending High Court trial.

But BBC bosses say they will not agree to the evidence being withheld or not being referred to in open court proceedings.

They say any “derogation from open justice” must be “strictly necessary”.

Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane Football Stadium (Richard Sellers/PA)
Lawyers said a man alleged he was sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff at Bramall Lane football stadium (Richard Sellers/PA)

A judge is analysing rival arguments at a preliminary hearing at the High Court in London.

Sir Cliff, who is not at the hearing, is suing the BBC over coverage of a raid at his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire in August 2014.

Lawyers representing the singer say he has suffered “profound and long-lasting” damage.

BBC editors have said they will “defend ourselves vigorously”.

A spokesman said the BBC had reported Sir Cliff’s “full denial of the allegations at every stage”.

Lawyers have told how, in late 2013, a man made an allegation to the Metropolitan Police, saying he had been sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane football stadium in Sheffield when a child in 1985.

Metropolitan Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.

Sir Cliff denied the allegation and in June 2016 prosecutors announced that he would face no charges.

A trial is due to take place later this year.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, who is leading Sir Cliff’s legal team, said five “sensitive” passages in witness statements gathered by the BBC contained information about the police investigation into the singer which was not in the public domain.

“What is contained within the paragraphs of these witness statements is plainly within the four corners of what we say is private information,” he told the judge.

“This is the BBC holding itself up as the guardian of the public interest and saying the public is entitled to hear its full evidence.

“It is plainly wrong to say they will get any less a fair trial from your Lordship if these passages, five in all, are withheld from public inspection.”

He said Sir Cliff was not asking the judge to sit in private.

Gavin Millar QC, who is leading the BBC’s legal team, said the passages should be aired in open court.

“The passages in these witness statements are not part of an attack by the BBC,” he said.

“These passages are there as part of the BBC’s case.”

He added: “We don’t say we are the guardian of the public interest.”

Mr Millar said the open justice principle should apply.