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BBC bosses flag up concerns over Cliff's mounting legal costs

By Brian Farmer

A judge says he has decided to say nothing about the size of legal bills run up by Sir Cliff Richard during a High Court damages fight with the BBC.

BBC bosses have criticised the singer over his spending on lawyers.

They say a trial is unlikely to be staged this year, but add that figures appear to show the singer has already run up legal costs of more than £800,000.

The BBC could be ordered to pick up Sir Cliff's lawyers' bills if it loses the battle, and bosses had invited Mr Justice Mann, who is overseeing the litigation, to "record" his views.

But Mr Justice Mann on Friday told lawyers: "I am not minded to make any particular remarks about the level of costs."

He was speaking at the end of the latest of a series of preliminary hearings in London.

The singer has taken legal action against the BBC, and South Yorkshire Police, over coverage of a raid at his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014. Sir Cliff was cleared of any wrongdoing, and his lawyers say he suffered "profound and long-lasting" harm and should get damages.

BBC editors have said they will "defend ourselves vigorously''.

A BBC spokeswoman added that it had reported Sir Cliff's "full denial of the allegations at every stage''. South Yorkshire Police have apologised "wholeheartedly for the additional anxiety caused" by the force's "initial handling of the media interest'' in its investigation into the singer.

Lawyers say in late 2013 a man made an allegation to the Metropolitan Police, claiming he had been sexually assaulted as a child in 1985 by Sir Cliff at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane football stadium. Metropolitan Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014. Sir Cliff denied the allegation "as soon as it was brought to his attention'' and, in June 2016, prosecutors announced he would face no charges.

All sides on Friday said they had agreed to a month-long ceasefire in the hope that a settlement could be reached. Mr Justice Mann has indicated he will review the position in the near future.

Gavin Millar QC, who heads the BBC's legal team, had told Mr Justice Mann in a written submission: "On any view ... the claimant's incurred costs to date are grossly unreasonable and disproportionate.''

A spokesman for Sir Cliff said outside court: "Sir Cliff Richard incurred these costs and expenses over more than a two-year period, we say as a direct result of the actions of South Yorkshire Police and the BBC."

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