Police complain over Sir Cliff Richard search 'leak'

Cliff Richard in 2012 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Cliff says the allegations are completely false

South Yorkshire Police has complained to the BBC after the broadcaster gained details of a search the force was planning to conduct at pop star Sir Cliff Richard's home.

Officers carried out the search in Sunningdale, Berkshire, on Thursday.

The force says the BBC broke its own editorial rules. The BBC says "normal journalistic practice" was followed.

Sir Cliff, 73, said the allegation of an historical sex offence against a boy under 16 was "completely false".

BBC cameras and a reporter were outside the gates to Sir Cliff's property when eight police officers arrived.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said it was contacted some weeks ago by a BBC reporter "who made it clear he knew of the existence of an investigation."

'Preserve potential evidence'

The statement continued: "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."

Police later said "a number of people" had "provided information" after the search although it did not say what this related to.

In its statement, South Yorkshire Police added that "contrary to media reports", the decision to involve the BBC "was not taken in order to maximise publicity, it was taken to preserve any potential evidence".

Jonathan Munro, the BBC's head of newsgathering, wrote on Twitter on Friday that South Yorkshire Police had not been the source of the story.

But 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 said a letter of complaint had been sent to the director general of the BBC making it clear that the broadcaster appeared to have contravened its own editorial guidelines.

"South Yorkshire Police would welcome an investigation into the original leak," it added.

A BBC spokesperson 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."

Tip off 'extraordinary'

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has accused the police of having a "collusive relationship" with the BBC.

Speaking to the Telegraph, he said: "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."

Human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC described the way the police search was conducted as "unacceptable".

Writing in the Independent, he said: "The police had a duty to investigate, seek any corroborating evidence, and then - and only if they had reasonable grounds to suspect him of committing an offence - to give him the opportunity to refute those suspicions before a decision to charge is made.

"But here, police subverted due process by waiting until Richard had left for vacation, and then orchestrating massive publicity for the raid on his house, before making any request for interview and before any question could arise of arresting or charging him."

'False allegations'

The BBC understands the allegation against Sir Cliff relates to an alleged assault at an event featuring US preacher Billy Graham at Bramall Lane in Sheffield in 1985.

Sir Cliff responded to the police search in a statement, which said: "For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online.

"The allegations are completely false. Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen."

He said he would "co-operate fully" if the police wanted to speak to him.

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