MP questions police-media links after Sir Cliff Richard search

Cliff Richard Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Cliff Richard said the allegation against him was "completely false"

An MP has raised concern about the relationship between the police and the media after a BBC report on a police search of Sir Cliff Richard's home.

Former policing minister Nick Herbert said there were "serious questions to answer" about how the BBC knew of the operation in advance.

The search last Thursday related to an alleged historical sex offence in Sheffield, which the singer denies.

The BBC has received 594 complaints on various issues relating to the report.

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

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

The force has complained to the BBC director general and said the corporation appeared to have broken its own editorial guidelines.

'Balanced and proportionate'

A BBC statement said the search of Sir Cliff's home had been reported in a "fair and impartial manner".

Reporting the police operation had been in the public interest in light of other allegations "of historic abuse by prominent people", the BBC said.

The BBC had made contact with Sir Cliff's agent as soon as the search started - which it said had been "well before" the story was broadcast.

"Due prominence" was given to Sir Cliff's denial of the allegation.

"We believe that BBC News' coverage of the allegation against Sir Cliff Richard, and the search of his property, has been balanced and proportionate," the BBC said.

"This was a breaking news story, which was also covered across the wider media."

The complaints to the BBC were made up of:

  • 255 expressing concern about how the BBC found out police were going to search the property
  • 197 complaining the BBC had given the raid too much coverage
  • 107 felt the way the story was handled suggested Sir Cliff was guilty
  • 35 which said the BBC's use of a helicopter to get footage of the search was either intrusive, or a waste of money

Ofcom said it was collating figures regarding the complaints it had received.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Cliff should not have been named, Mr Herbert said

Mr Herbert, the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, said he believed there was a continuing problem with the way police and the media work together.

"When we have a system where police officers or staff think nothing of picking up the phone - either for payment or otherwise - and providing these tip-offs, it suggests that there is a cultural issue, that we do not have sufficient professionalism."

Mr Herbert also criticised the way reporting of the search of Sir Cliff's house was handled.

"The code of practice on relationships with the media, which was issued after the Leveson Inquiry by the new College of Policing, is clear that suspects in the ordinary course of things should not be named prior to their charge, not even when they're arrested and Sir Cliff Richard was not even arrested," he said.

"He was not even informed about this raid. There are serious questions to answer both on the part of the police about how this information got into the public domain, but also by the BBC for its editorial judgement in the way that it interacted with the police."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sir Cliff has confirmed that he has withdrawn from a music concert, due to be held on 26 September at Canterbury Cathedral, because he "does not want the event to be overshadowed by the false allegation".

Justice 'damaged'

The Leveson Inquiry was set up in July 2011 after it emerged journalists working for the now-closed News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of murdered Surrey schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.

The public, judge-led inquiry examined the culture, practice and ethics of the press and its relationships with police and politicians.

The chairman of Parliament's home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, has written to Chief Constable David Crompton and BBC boss Lord Hall to ask how the BBC knew of the raid in advance.

And the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, Shaun Wright, is also investigating.

Elsewhere, Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, told the Times that South Yorkshire Police's liaison with the BBC was "quite inexcusable and unforgivable".

Former home secretary Jack Straw told the newspaper that he "recoiled" at the "connivance of the police with the BBC", which he described as "grotesque".

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