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Police and BBC criticised for coverage of Cliff Richard raid

22 August 2014


Earlier: Sir Cliff Richard with Billy Graham in London in 1988

Earlier: Sir Cliff Richard with Billy Graham in London in 1988

BOTH South Yorkshire Police and the BBC have been criticised after the Corporation broadcast footage of officers searching Sir Cliff Richard's home live on television last week.

The police were acting on an allegation that Sir Cliff had sexually assaulted a boy aged under 16 during a Billy Graham rally in Sheffield in 1985.

In a statement from Portugal, where he is staying, Sir Cliff strongly denied the claim. He has not been arrested or charged.

Sir Cliff also complained that the media had been told about the search before he had. The BBC said that it had approached South Yorkshire Police several weeks ago, after a tip-off about the investigation into Sir Cliff. A BBC spokeswoman said: "The BBC followed normal journalistic practice and agreed not to publish a story that might jeopardise a police inquiry."

It instead struck a deal with the force that, in return for not immediately reporting the allegation, it would be told when the search would take place, in order to ensure live TV coverage.

Alex Marshall, Chief Constable of the College of Policing, which sets ethical guidelines for police forces, said that if an officer had leaked the information to the BBC, he or she should be "held to account".

The veteran broadcaster and former BBC journalist Sir Michael Parkinson has strongly criticised the BBC, telling ITV News that a "witch-hunt" was under way. The former policing minister Nick Herbert has also criticised the BBC's "editorial judgement" over the case.

The BBC later acknowledged that its original source of information had not been South Yorkshire Police, but not before the force had sent a complaint to the BBC.

The BBC's Director-General, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, have been summoned to the Home Affairs Select Committee to explain to MPs the circumstances behind the raid and the BBC's coverage. Some 480 people have complained to the BBC about its broadcasting of the live footage of the search.

South Yorkshire Police has said that the media coverage of the raid has produced further leads in its investigation. "Since the search took place, a number of people have contacted the police to provide information, and we must acknowledge that the media played a part in that, for which we are grateful," a spokesman said last Friday.

A planned appearance by Sir Cliff in Canterbury Cathedral in September, at an event to raise funds for its restoration work, has been cancelled, he announced on Tuesday. In a statement, his spokesman said that he did not want the event to be "overshadowed" by the allegations against him.

Sir Cliff is also an official Friend of Tearfund. In a statement, the charity said that it was "disturbed" to hear of the allegations, and that its thoughts and prayers were with "everyone involved".

Meanwhile, fans of Sir Cliff are attempting to get his 1992 ballad "I Still Believe In You" into the charts, as a sign of support for the 73-year-old singer. The track was the most downloaded song on Amazon.co.uk on Tuesday.

Question of the week: Should the police and the BBC have broadcast the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard?

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