Police lodge formal complaint against BBC over coverage of Cliff Richards raid
Published 17/08/2014 | 17:42
South Yorkshire Police has complained to the BBC and accused it of breaching its own editorial guidelines after the broadcaster found out about a search the force was planning to carry out at the home of pop star Sir Cliff Richard.
The singer's Berkshire penthouse was searched for five hours on Thursday by officers from South Yorkshire and Thames Valley Police as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a boy under the age of 16 at a religious event in 1985.
South Yorkshire Police said it was "disappointing" that the BBC was slow to acknowledge that the force was not the source of the "leak".
It acknowledged that it did confirm to a reporter at the corporation the date of the search of Sir Cliff's house, but only because the BBC had already contacted the force to say it knew about a planned investigation.
Sir Cliff, who was in Portugal when the search took place, firmly denied any wrongdoing and hit out at the fact BBC journalists were apparently tipped off about the plan.
A press helicopter was reportedly at his home before police even arrived.
In a statement the force reiterated that "at no point" had it leaked information, which has been confirmed publicly by the BBC.
On Friday Jonathan Munro, the BBC's head of news gathering, said there had been lots of questions about the original source of the story, tweeting: "We won't say who, but can confirm it was not South Yorks Police."
South Yorkshire Police said: "The force was contacted some weeks ago by a BBC reporter who made it clear he knew of the existence of an investigation. It was clear he (was) in a position to publish it.
"The force was reluctant to co-operate but felt that to do otherwise would risk losing any potential evidence, so in the interests of the investigation it was agreed that the reporter would be notified of the date of the house search in return for delaying publication of any of the facts.
"Contrary to media reports, this decision was not taken in order to maximise publicity, it was taken to preserve any potential evidence.
"South Yorkshire Police considers it disappointing that the BBC was slow to acknowledge that the force was not the source of the leak.
"A letter of complaint has been sent to the Director General of the BBC making it clear that the broadcaster appears to have contravened it's editorial guidelines."
The force added that it would now welcome an investigation into the original leak.
A BBC spokeswoman said: "A BBC journalist approached South Yorkshire Police with information about the investigation. The BBC agreed to follow normal journalistic practice and not to publish a story that might jeopardise a police inquiry."
The police's handling of the case has come under further criticism, with former Attorney General Dominic Grieve calling it "odd" and "very questionable".
Mr Grieve told the Sunday Telegraph: "I can see that police might not want to warn somebody about a search because they fear a suspect will destroy the evidence. But it was much odder to tip off the BBC that they were carrying out the raid.
"That seems quite extraordinary. I have no reason to think they are acting capriciously but I think it was odd to notify the BBC so they could have journalists there to film events."
Mr Grieve said that in the absence of a "sound public reason" for informing the BBC it suggested a "collusive relationship", and questioned whether the force could have breached national guidelines by making public its investigation.
Tory MP Nigel Evans, who was cleared of a string of alleged sex offences at a trial earlier this year, was also scathing in his criticism of the BBC.
He told radio station LBC: "The BBC have completely lost their moral compass.
"It's like tabloid television at its worst and (Director General) Tony Hall really does now need to apologise profusely and action needs to be taken that this never happens again.
"How dare they say that they would release the information about the investigation unless the police co-operated with them.
"That is absolutely outrageous and the police should never have given the information in the first place."
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said he was writing to South Yorkshire Police's chief constable David Crompton to demand an explanation for the force's actions, saying "serious questions need to be asked" about the handling of the matter, the Telegraph said.
The College of Policing, the professional body that sets standards for policing, also called on both the BBC and the force to explain the circumstances of the case.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, the college's chief executive, said that if the disclosure of information about the investigation into Sir Cliff was unauthorised then it could would contravene the code of ethics and those responsible should be held to account.
Media guidance issued by the college sets out the standards expected of police, he said, and makes clear the importance of ensuring that operational activity with the media does not interfere with an individual's right to a fair trial or cause unnecessary distress or harassment to those being investigated.
Mr Marshall said: "It is paramount that investigations are conducted fairly, impartially and with integrity. The media guidance allows for local decision making based on the circumstances of each particular case.
"The BBC have said that it was not South Yorkshire Police who first alerted them to this investigation and have not confirmed where the information came from.
"If the information was an unauthorised disclosure from within policing then it would be contrary to the Code of Ethics and the person concerned should be held to account.
"The presence of a BBC film crew at the scene of a police search, usually a closely guarded secret, has attracted understandable attention. It is for South Yorkshire Police and the BBC to explain the circumstances of this case.''