BREAKING: Sign of The Times – Thunderer readers rebel over attacks on 'balanced' Sir Cliff ruling

The Royal Courts of Justice

READERS of Rupert Murdoch’s The Times have railed against its attacks on the Sir Cliff Richard High Court privacy ruling, which for the first time protects innocent police suspects from being wrongly named as criminals in the media. 

A day after The Thunderer denounced Mr Justice Mann’s landmark decision as a “serious affront to public interest journalism”, the content of its famous letters page suggested many among its readership disagree with that view.

On a day dominated by opinions on the Sir Cliff ruling, there were five times as many letters on the subject in The Times as any other issue – Brexit included.

Yet none was backing The Times’ leader column of the previous day, while many embraced the move to allow suspects an expectation of privacy before they’re charged with any crimes.

Jonathan Caplan QC

“The legal decision in the Cliff Richard case is long overdue,” wrote Jonathan Caplan QC, a barrister who specialises in media law, and is known for successfully defending The News of the World’s former managing editor Stuart Kuttner on phone hacking charges at the Old Bailey in 2014.

“Reporting that an individual has had his premises searched or that he has been arrested will have dramatic reputational consequences.

“In fact, it means no more than that the police believe that they have reasonable grounds to suspect that that individual has committed an offence.

“The investigation will also usually be at a very early stage and police action may be based on the uncorroborated account of a single witness.

“Postponing reporting until charges, if any, are preferred after independent scrutiny of the Crown Prosecution Service makes for a much fairer balance between the right of privacy and the right to freedom of expression.

“The much vaunted argument that publication of an arrest assists in bringing forward other victims and in strengthening the prosecution case is two edged. In reality this is a “flypaper” measure that attracts those who have never complained before.”

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Another barrister – James Keeley – wrote in to explain how the presumption of privacy could work on a practical level so as to thaw any perceived “chill” on press freedom.

He wrote: “The successful litigation by Sir Cliff Richard against the BBC highlights the tension that exists between the freedom of the press and an individual’s right to privacy.

“However, to give an accused the right to anonymity, “Cliff’s law”, is a step too far. It is time for parliament to get involved and to find a middle ground.

“One way of balancing both arguments is for there to be presumption of anonymity in such cases with the possibility of rebutting it on application to a judge.

“Judges could then hear submissions from interested parties and make decisions case by case. Any order for anonymity would cease in the event of a conviction.”

Another Times reader, Allan McCulloch, from Edinburgh, hit out at sensationalist journalism.

He wrote: “Your editorial “Privacy on trial” suggests that the judgment in the Cliff Richard case should not “herald a move towards anonymity and secrecy in the police”.

“I would suggest that the motivation of the BBC in reporting on the Cliff Richard house search was less to do with monitoring the police and more with “exposing” a celebrity.

“Perhaps the BBC in targeting Sir Cliff, was attempting to make amends for its own lamentable failure to “expose” Stuart Hall and another of its employees, Jimmy Savile.”

Reader Roger Elsey, of Hartlepool, had read Justice Mann’s 122-page ruling before writing in.

He said: “A careful reading of the balanced and thorough judgment of Mr Justice Mann in deciding Sir Cliff’s claim against the BBC will dispel any fear that it is a blow against the freedom of the press.

“The judge did not condemn what was done but the way in which is was done.

“The judgment strikes a sensitive balance between the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression.

“No one reading it will be fooled by the pretence that the journalists were motivated by a desire to scrutinise the actions of the South Yorkshire Police.”

Horsham man Peter Hillman could not see the merits of appealing the Sir Cliff ruling.

He added: “I very much hope that the BBC accepts defeat gracefully and decides not to wasted any more of licence payers’ money on appealing against the finding against it in its spat with Sir Cliff Richard.”