Public Are Right To Side With Sir Cliff Richard Against The BBC

It's a tricky process of weighing up pros and cons but, for me, the public has got it right. Just one in twenty thinks it was OK for the BBC to name Sir Cliff Richard it broadcast live footage of police raiding his house four years ago.

Remember -- the pop star was not at the house, and had not been arrested or charged for any crime. He never was. Those have to be the key facts to any case and have to steer whether a person is named. It was undoubtedly the fact that the star was vilified by the coverage yet the investigation went nowhere that prompted a London court to award the star GBP210,000 in damages. It is a case that made the front page of every paper and has dominated media industry talk ever since.

Many newspapers have supported the BBC and complained that the judgement sets a dangerous precedent. The line here is that someone like Harvey Weinstein would never have been charged and the #MeToo movement would never have happened if he were not named as a suspect, prompting more complainants to come forward. It is a good argument -- and as ever, it's not simple to choose a side.

However, the press has a habit of sticking to the cases where the accused has been found guilty of a serious crime. There are also examples where they are not. A recent case against high-profile former politicians, including a Lord who died under a cloud of suspicion, was proven to be the work of a fantasist. I can still remember the high-profile football manager who quit his job over accusations which were subsequently proven to be fabricated.

So for every few cases you can name in which identification led to more people coming forward, there are examples of great harm caused to the innocent. Plus, once there is enough evidence against someone that they are charged, if they are then named, the list of complainants can be added to. But surely this has to only ever happen at least after the Crown Prosecution Services believes a person has a case to answer.

I was recently on a jury, and the first thing we were individually asked was whether a name was familiar to us -- I won't repeat it -- or if we had links to a local college. It was for the very good reason of ensuring that a young man in the dock got a fair trial. I'm pleased to say he did, and it was only after our guilty verdict was read out that we found out he was already in prison. When I checked the coverage of the case I had sat on, after he had been sentenced, there were reports of his first guilty verdict and sentencing. There was, however, not a single mention of him being arrested or charged with the second crime. It was for the very good reason that this could have impacted a juror's view going into a deliberation room. 

If I could get over one point from having been involved in a case that saw a young man go to prison, it would be that the judge judges the law, the jury judges the case. It was a revelation to me that the twelve people in the deliberation room tell the judge whether the person is guilty or not. The judge only ensures the trial is fair and then, if necessary, decides on the sentence. We all know this in the back of our minds but it's not until you instruct a judge of a verdict that it comes home to you that the people judge, and the judge takes our instruction.

This is why the press must to be so careful. Judges might we trusted to read something and disregard it, but can you say the same for the twenty or so people shortlisted to form a jury of twelve?

If Sir Cliff Richard were now to be accused of another crime, could the jury seriously pretend they had never heard of this first investigation that went nowhere but still, in some peoples' eyes, may have left a stain on his character? I doubt it. You can't "unsee" helicopter footage of a mansion being raided nor "unhear" a very famous name.

So the public has got this right. The press is wrong. 

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