”The police force behind a raid on the luxury home of Sir Cliff Richard was “utterly inept in tipping off the BBC about the operation which resulted in “irreparable damage” to the singer’s reputation, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee said yesterday.
In a highly critical report by the Home Affairs Select Committee, South Yorkshire Police is rebuked for informing a reporter about the timing of the raid, which allowed the corporation to send up a helicopter to film officers going into the singer’s home.
A BBC reporter was told the day when officers were going to search his home and was sent an aerial photograph by the force of the flat on a private estate in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to make sure they got the right place.
The 74-year-old singer has not been arrested but was interviewed over an alleged sex crime against a boy at a Billy Graham evangelical event at a Sheffield football stadium in 1985. Officers were filmed going on to the estate and through the windows of the penthouse as they carried out their work.
Sir Cliff is continuing to work and has a number of shows lined up for next year including five dates at the Royal Albert Hall. The singer is reportedly planning to sell the flat following the publicity surrounding the raid while he was in Portugal.
The reporter received the information after approaching the force a month earlier with a vague inquiry about the singer, according to BBC officials. The force had claimed that it had no choice but to deal with the reporter as they said he had detailed information about the case.
According to Sky News Dozens of emails, texts and phone calls were exchanged over the following month in the run-up to the raid in August and it was clear from these details were being passed that should not have been to a reporter.
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Sir Keith Vaz stated that “The email exchanges could easily be mistaken for a script from The Bill. The force should have refused to co-operate 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.”
Mr Vaz added: “No British citizen should have to watch their home being raided by the police live on television. Sir Cliff Richard has suffered enormous and irreparable damage to his reputation and he is owed an apology over the way matters were handled.
“Police forces should consider carefully how they deal with approaches from journalists on such matters in the future. Someone in possession of sensitive information decided to leak details of the investigation to the media. We deplore this”.
The reporter, Dan Johnson, sent one message that said: “Give me a shout before they take anything out so we can get the chopper in place for a shot.”
The BBC is not criticised for covering the raid but said that the force should have contacted corporation managers if they wanted to get the message across that coverage of the raid would hamper their investigation. During hearings before the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Director‑General, Lord Hall, said they would not have run the story if the chief constable had asked them not to.
The chief constable of South Yorkshire, David Crompton, has previously apologised to Sir Cliff if the force was insensitive about the search. The report’s findings are a further blow to the force which was condemned for its failure to investigate child sex abuse in Rotherham.