Sir Cliff Richard is demanding the BBC pay for his autobiography cancelled after they broadcast police searching his home because of allegations of a historic sexual offence.
The 77-year-old singer says that the BBC “shattered” his reputation in an intrusion of privacy when they named him as being under investigation for an alleged sex offence involving a minor dating back to 1985.
As the trial at the High Court began, it emerged that if he wins he will seek £278,261 for legal costs, £108,500 for PR fees and an undisclosed sum for the “substantial non-recoverable advance”, which had been agreed for his autobiography which had been due to be published in late 2015.
In their legal argument, handed to the judge, his lawyers say he seeks “substantial damages” for intrusion of privacy and breach of the Data Protection Act and point out that the book My Life, My Way is “no longer viable”.
The BBC were accused of acting recklessly in publishing the story because they were desperate for the “scoop” and internal emails show that their reporter talked of having the police “over a barrel” whilst others noted the need to get the “money shots” of police going into his home.
Sir Cliff, who sat quietly behind his legal team throughout proceedings wearing a purple pin stripe suit, was described by his QC as a man who “needs no introduction”.
Justin Rushbrooke QC continued: “He is one of the most distinguished entertainers this country has even known. His career in music has spanned almost 60 years.”
But despite his record for single sales being beaten “only by the Beatles and Elvis Presley”, he found “within minutes” of being told that he was subject to the police that he had been named on the BBC news and footage of officers searching his home was being beamed around the world.
Mr Rushbrooke QC, who pointed out that Sir Cliff is an “innocent man” who was never even charged, said: “He found his private life shattered, his home violated and his reputation around the world in shreds, all within the space of a few minutes.”
Opening Sir Cliff’s case, Mr Rushbrooke QC said that the BBC have refused to apologise or say that they have done anything wrong, adding: “How Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave.”
He said that they were desperate to broadcast because of the “unchecked ambition” of their reporter and the “desire to scoop their rivals, particular ITN”.
The BBC say that the claim, the first of its kind, is an affront to the principles of freedom of speech and they published the story as it was “a matter of high public interest”.
They point out that the naming of someone who is arrested can lead to witnesses or other victims coming forward.
The BBC have admitted that they got the tip-off about the investigation from a source in the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree.
The North of England reporter Dan Johnson then put the tip to South Yorkshire Police, who met with him and agreed to keep him updated if he held off publishing the story.
In an email to his manager, Mr Johnson said that he had the police “over a barrel” because of the tip-off, and Mr Rushbrooke QC suggested that that information was used to force South Yorkshire police to hand over further details.
Mr Johnson told police that he had heard that Sir Cliff been named on a list of influential people who had visited Elm Guest House, the court heard, where it was alleged that there had been sexual abuse and grooming of children at parties held in the late 1970s and 1980s.
The Metropolitan Police investigated the allegations and found no evidence of them.
Mr Rushbrooke said: “I need to make clear in fairness to my client that Sir Cliff meet went to Elm Guest House. He didn’t know it existed until he heard about those rumours.”
The day before officers searched Sir Cliff’s penthouse apartment in Sunningdale, Berks, in August 2014, the officers phoned the BBC to tell them that they would carry out the search, allowing them to have satellite trucks, reporters and helicopters present for the search.
Internal emails show that it was discussed as a “monster story” and in what was described by Mr Rushbrooke as a “first in TV history”, the TV crews were already there when police arrived.
He was given less than two hours to respond before they named him on the 1 o’clock news, it was said.
Mr Rushbrooke said that they had used “very considerable resources” on the story, including dispatching reporters to Sir Cliff’s homes in Portugal and Barbados.
Mr Rushbrooke QC said: ”He fears that the effects of what the BBC did are such that his dignity and his standing have been damaged forever and no amount of damages can undo that, but it will afford him some comfort to know that by bringing this action he can ensure that what happened to him never happens to anyone else again.”
He added: “They were playing with fire, but Sir Cliff was the one who got burnt.”
Over the course of the hearing, Sir Cliff will give evidence and a statement from Gloria Hunniford detailing the impact that this had on him will be read. The case continues.