Wednesday, November 26, 2014

British cops condemned as 'inept' over Sir Cliff Richard search

The police force which allowed the BBC to broadcast searches of Sir Cliff Richard's home live on television has been condemned as "utterly inept" by MPs.

South Yorkshire Police should apologise to the entertainer for the "enormous and irreparable damage" caused to his reputation, the Home Affairs Select Committee said.

The report also criticised the BBC’s "misleading"reporting of the police search at Sir Cliff’s home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, on August 14.

The Corporation broadcast live from outside the building, including aerial pictures from a helicopter, and a reporter suggested their presence at the scene was a "deliberate attempt by police to ensure maximum coverage".

In fact, another BBC reporter had "blackmailed" the South Yorkshire force into granting the Corporation exclusive access, in the view of a senior officer in the case, the committee report said.

Police were investigating an allegation that Sir Cliff, whose singing career spans six decades, sexually assaulted a young boy when performing at a Christian rally organised by Billy Graham, the American evangelist, in 1985.

At the time of the BBC’s live coverage Sir Cliff, 74, had not been publicly named by police.

Sir Cliff has not been arrested or charged and has dismissed the allegations as "completely false".

In the new cross-party report, South Yorkshire Police was condemned for its failure to contact senior BBC executives over the report.

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC director general, told the committee that if a news editor or other senior figure had been informed of the sensitivity of the investigation "we would not have run the story".

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the committee, said: "South Yorkshire Police's handling of this situation was utterly inept.

"The force allowed itself to hand over sensitive information to a journalist and granted him privileged access to the execution of a search warrant.

"The force should have refused to cooperate and explained to senior BBC News executives why the premature broadcasting of a story, which they claimed the journalist threatened, would have prejudiced the investigation.

"No British citizen should have to watch their home being raided by the police live on television."

After a BBC reporter made an initial approach to South Yorkshire saying he intended to run the story, the force "cut a deal" with him and played an "active part" in assisting the Corporation, the report said.

The force’s Press office texted the reporter on the morning to notify officers were going to begin the search, and even provided the BBC with an aerial photograph of the block in which Sir Cliff’s apartment was located.

Mr Vaz said: "Sir Cliff Richard has suffered enormous and irreparable damage to his reputation and he is owed an apology over the way matters were handled. We are not surprised that he wishes to sell his home.

"Police forces should consider carefully how they deal with approaches from journalists on such matters in the future."

Information about the search appeared to have been leaked to the BBC by someone inside the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree inquiry into historic sex abuse.

But the South Yorkshire force failed to notify Scotland Yard about the leak, the report said, which it described as "unsustainable".

A spokeswoman for the force said: "Whilst we believe our actions in relation to dealing with the media were within policy and were well intended, they were ultimately flawed and we regret the additional anxiety which was caused to Sir Cliff Richard.

"South Yorkshire Police has changed the way it deals with this type of media enquiry.

"In high-profile cases the force no longer provides privileged briefings to reporters, nor does it confirm information which media sources seek to verify.

"We are fully cooperating with the Metropolitan Police investigation regarding the original source of information."

Original report here

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