EXCLUSIVE: Shurely Sun mishtake? Paper in meltdown over Sir Cliff privacy ruling – 'outs' WRONG judge
THE SUN was left red-faced today after it mis-identified the High Court judge in Sir Cliff Richard’s landmark privacy trial – while leading attacks on his ruling that protects innocent suspects from wrongful accusations of criminality.
Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper levelled heavy criticism at Mr Justice Mann’s decision to allow suspects in criminal cases privacy unless charged with an offence – but then used a picture of the wrong judge to illustrate its case.
The gaffe is doubly embarrassing as The Sun is intimately familiar with Justice Mann and his work; he is overseeing a string of phone hacking cases, due for trial later this year, alleging serious past criminality and cover up at the market-leading tabloid, which it denies.
At the time of publication, The Sun had yet to rectify its mistake.
The Sun and its parent company News UK were among the loudest to decry the Sir Cliff ruling, which follows a decision by the BBC to broadcast helicopter footage of South Yorkshire Police raiding his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014.
The 77-year-old singer, who was neither arrested nor charged with any offence, took legal action against the BBC, and went on to receive damages of £210,000 – the highest privacy award ever made in the UK.
The Sun devoted thousands of words of coverage to attacking the ruling, which would mean the naming of criminal suspects pre-charging would need to be argued in court on a case-by-case basis.
News UK sent out its most senior lawyer Angus McBride to decry the “extremely dangerous” judgment on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.
McBride – who became News UK’s General Counsel after successfully defending its CEO Rebekah Brooks from phone hacking charges – told presenter Emily Maitliss: “The law is now moved so far towards protecting the right of the individual under investigation that it is very hard for legal teams and for journalists to decide how far they can go in terms of actually judging the public interest.
“Plus, I think, we are letting investigations and early stage investigations take place in a vacuum, where they won’t be looked at, they won’t be seen, they won’t be overseen.”
Also in force attacking Mann’s ruling was Rupert Murdoch’s flagship broadsheet The Times, whose sister paper The Sunday Times is facing ongoing claims of criminal news-gathering.
The Sir Cliff ruling even united The Sun and its oldest tabloid rival, The Mirror, which coincidentally is appearing before Justice Mann in a separate series of phone hacking trials, and claims of high-level cover up at its newspapers.
The Mirror also devoted large amounts of coverage to attacking the ruling, quoting “experts” to explain how the ruling may somehow “protect the guilty”.
The paper quoted Nicola Cain, of law firm RPC, the same external law firm advising Mirror Group Newspapers in its phone hacking defence.
Ms Cain said: “This is a landmark judgment in many ways, all of which are bad for the media.
“The media is going to have to walk on eggshells when reporting on police investigations from now on.”
Despite its proclamations that protecting people’s identity at the very early stages of criminal cases was a bad thing for society, The Mirror’s readers weren’t entirely in agreement.
A poll on its website was showing 70% in favour of the new rule as we went to press, with many comments echoing that.
Mirror commenter Daveo1234 wrote: “What the BBC and police did at the time was totally wrong. They sent helicopters and reporters to his home before he had even been interviewed by the police. How is that right or fair?
“If after he had been interviewed and charged with a crime then it should have been reported. By doing what they did they sensationalised the whole thing insinuating his guilt before he had even been interviewed.
“Nobody deserves that treatment whether they are famous or not.”
Another Mirror commenter, GhostWriter, said: “This is a tricky one for the press and media to report with any impartiality, because any changes in the law would limit or take away their preferred sensationalist ‘journalism’ when pursuing a story whether there are any substantiating facts or not.”
Another, Ouroboros64, said: “Media worried about this but not so on the total media ban on reporting on certain other cases, strange that”
Commenters at The Sun also shared strong opinions.