Top BBC executives claim police chief 'misled' MPs about raid on Sir Cliff Richards' flat
BBC denies that reporter Dan Johnson ‘extorted’ information from the police
The BBC’s most senior executives have suggested that a chief constable systematically misled Parliament over the circumstances of a police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s flat.
Lord Hall, the director general, James Harding, the head of news, and another BBC executive, Jonathan Munro, all questioned the account of David Crompton, the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, who indicated to MPs that a BBC journalist had “extorted” sensitive information from his force regarding a planned raid on the £3.1m flat owned by the veteran singer.
During an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Lord Hall said the BBC “disputed” much of the evidence provided by Mr Crompton, who claimed South Yorkshire Police were put in a “very difficult position” by reporter Dan Johnson.
The police chief said the reporter “knew everything we knew” about a recently begun investigation into allegations that Sir Cliff sexually assaulted an underage boy at an event held by the American evangelist Billy Graham at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium in 1985. Sir Cliff has denied the claims.
Mr Crompton claimed his colleagues in the media office were convinced that the BBC would run a story about the investigation without some kind of deal. “We were placed in a very difficult position because of the original leak and the BBC came to us knowing everything that we knew, as far as the investigation was concerned,” he said.
“My concern was that if we showed the BBC the door, the very clear impression which had been left with my staff in the media department was that they were likely to publish the story. That would have impeded our investigation.
“I’m confident that we made the right decision in difficult and unusual circumstances.”
However, Lord Hall said Mr Johnson had approached South Yorkshire Police press office armed solely with Sir Cliff Richard’s name. He said: “He had a tip-off about Cliff Richard, that was all he had. [Our] reporter didn’t have a story until he went to South Yorkshire Police, who then gave him the story.”
The BBC and the force both faced substantial criticism following the real-time coverage of the raid last month, which was broadcast live from a helicopter hovering overhead. Geoffrey Robertson QC even questioned its legality.
In further conflicting evidence yesterday, Mr Crompton claimed the police had merely shared the “broad location” of the raid. However, Mr Harding said South Yorkshire officers had sent the BBC an aerial photograph of Sir Cliff’s flat the day before.
The BBC executives all defended Mr Johnson. Lord Hall said: “It was a proper story for us to report ... had the chief constable come ... and said you will hamper the investigation if you broadcast this, we would not have run the story.”
Emails and text messages of the BBC’s contact with the police are due to be released to the committee tomorrow.
Even before their disclosure, the committee were already siding with the BBC’s version of events. Keith Vaz, the chairman, said: “This committee thinks the BBC has acted perfectly properly in respect of this matter.”
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