BBC and police face quiz over Cliff Richard search

THE director general of the BBC and chief constable of South Yorkshire Police are due to be questioned by MPs over the handling of the search of Sir Cliff Richard’s Berkshire home.

Sir Cliff Richard. Picture: PA

Force head David Crompton and Lord Tony Hall will face the Home Affairs Select Committee following a row sparked when the BBC broke news of the search of the pop star’s penthouse.

Sir Cliff’s apartment was searched by officers from South Yorkshire and Thames Valley Police last month as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a young boy at a religious event in 1985. A BBC crew reportedly arrived on the scene before the police.

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Committee chairman Keith Vaz has already written to Mr Crompton and Lord Hall asking a series of questions about how the BBC found out about the planned search.

He asked Lord Hall how and when the broadcaster discovered the plan, when they first contacted South Yorkshire Police and whether the force had confirmed the time and date of the search.

The Director General was also pressed to explain when he first knew about the planned coverage of the search, who authorised use of the broadcaster’s helicopter to film it, why the police have complained to the BBC and whether he believes any BBC journalist has acted inappropriately.

It is accepted practice that journalists will not reveal the identity of confidential sources.

Mr Crompton has been asked to detail who in the force knew about the search and who else might have found out; when he and the force’s press team were made aware; how many times the force had confirmed the time of a search to journalists; and whether the search had been delayed or brought forward.

He has also been asked whether he believes any officer has acted inappropriately, why the force had complained to the BBC, when the broadcaster asked for more information about the search and what agreement was in place about reports of the process.

Sir Cliff, who was in Portugal when the search took place, firmly denied any wrongdoing and hit out at the fact BBC journalists were apparently tipped off about the plan.

He has cancelled a series of public appearances since the search, and has been interviewed under caution by police, but not arrested or charged.

The broadcaster’s head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro said that the information did not come from South Yorkshire Police, while the force said it had decided to work with the broadcaster to protect its investigation.

Mr Crompton has revealed that the force was approached by a BBC journalist with detailed information about its investigation, and “reluctantly” the reporter was give notice of the planned search to dissuade the corporation from publishing details in advance.

He objected to an analysis piece published on the BBC website that he felt suggested that there had been a deliberate attempt to ‘’ensure maximum coverage’’ by the force, and accused the broadcaster of trying to “distance itself” from the fact it had initiated contact with them.

Thames Valley Police said it had no contact with the media before the search warrant was executed.

The appearance before the committee comes at a turbulent time for South Yorkshire Police, which last week came under fire for failing to protect vulnerable victims of crime.

South Yorkshire Police’s public protection unit, which handles sex crimes such as rape, honour-based violence and domestic abuse, had an ‘’unacceptable’’ culture that saw officers spending a lot of time trying to disprove allegations, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said.

The area’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright is also facing increasing pressure to quit over the child abuse scandal in Rotherham.

Mr Wright was the Labour council cabinet member responsible for children’s services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, during a 16-year period when 1,400 youngsters suffered wide-scale sexual exploitation including gang rapes, grooming and trafficking.

He has apologised to victims, insisting he had no knowledge of the scale of the problem when he was a councillor in the South Yorkshire town, but has refused to quit his £85,000-a-year elected post as PCC.

This is despite calls by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary for him to resign, his deputy having quit, and being forced to leave the Labour Party.