Police officers have been warned they could face disciplinary action over their dealings with the BBC before the highly public five-hour search of Sir Cliff Richard’s home following an allegation of historic child abuse.
The corporation came under fire from politicians, senior police and one of its former journalists, Sir Michael Parkinson, after it broke the story of the probe into the 73-year-old singer, who was reportedly preparing to return from holiday in Portugal to face police questioning over the affair.
The College of Policing – which has drawn up an ethical code for officers – said South Yorkshire police and the BBC had to explain the circumstances of how the Corporation was made aware of the search at the £3.1m home, which it said was normally a “closely guarded secret”.
“If the information was an unauthorised disclosure from within policing then it would be contrary to the Code of Ethics and the person concerned should be held to account,” said chief constable Alex Marshall, the college’s chief executive.
Cliff Richard: Life in pictures
Cliff Richard: Life in pictures
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Richard aged 18 at the Hulton Boys and Girls Exhibition at Olympia's Disc Theatre in August 1959 when he was lead singer of the Drifters
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Pictured in 1962 with members of the Shadows, his backing group. Next to him is Bruce Welch, who played rhythm guitar
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With his backing group, the Shadows, Richard became a massive pop star in the 1960s with a string of hit albums and singles including ‘I love You’ (1960), ‘the Young Ones (1961), Bachelor Boy (1962) and ‘Summer Holiday (1963)
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With his mother, Dorothy, and one of his sisters in 1964
Michael Stroud/Daily Express/Hulton Archive
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Outside the Royal Albert Hall where he represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in October 1967
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Cliff Richard in 1968
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Cliff Richard poses in front of his disc awards in the 1970s
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On stage at the 1981 Royal Variety Performance, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London
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In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2008, Sir Cliff is reported as saying: "Of all the women I've known, there were only two that I've come close to marrying. One was Jackie Irving, a dancer whom I met in Blackpool. She was utterly beautiful and for a while we were inseparable. The other girl I came close to asking was Sue Barker, whom I met in 1982"
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Orchestrating a round of singing as rain delays play during the 1996 Wimbledon tennis championships
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Performing a duet with Flemish singer Helmut Lotti during a rehearsal of Lotti's album and TV broadcast 'Pop Classics' on 6 August 2003 in Brussels
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Performing on stage during the 'Intelligent Finance Cliff Richard Tennis Classic' at Birmingham National Indoor Arena on 18 December 2004
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Arriving with Brian May at the Royal Film Performance and World Premiere of 'The Chronicles Of Narnia' at the Royal Albert Hall on 7 December 2005 in London
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Unveiling a plaque of his handprints in Wembley Arena's Square of Fame on 9 November 2006 in London
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Sir Cliff Richard and The Shadows performs live on stage at the O2 Arena in London on 28 September 2009
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Cliff Richard attends a press conference to announce details of his new album at Gilgamesh on 7 March 2011 in London
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Queen Elizabeth II is introduced to Sir Cliff Richard backstage after the Diamond Jubilee, Buckingham Palace Concert on 4 June 2012, along with Sir Elton John, Sir Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, and Shirely Bassey
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Sir Cliff Richard at the 2012 US Open. The crooner claimed One Direction still compete with him to 'look cool'
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Performing on stage during the Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace in 2012
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Cliff Richard attends the 'Willkommen bei Carmen Nebel' show at Volkswagen Halle on 23 November 2013 in Braunschweig, Germany
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Richard, 73, is one of the most successful British recording artists
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Sir Cliff, born Harry Webb, has sold an estimated 21.5 million singles in the UK and 250 million worldwide during a career spanning over 50 years
South Yorkshire police has complained to the BBC and accused it of breaching its own editorial guidelines over filming of the search, which followed an allegation of a sexual assault on a boy under the age of 16 at a Billy Graham evangelical gathering in Sheffield in 1985.
In an interview with ITV, Sir Michael described the treatment of Sir Cliff as a witch-hunt and demanded greater protection for people’s anonymity before any charges were laid.
Video: Cliff Richard's friend reacts to house search
“I think the BBC did create an error in judgement, not in understanding the story and having the story and trying to follow it through, but in reacting to the story in a kind of way that would have done the red tops credit,” he said.
South Yorkshire Police said it was “disappointing” that the BBC was slow to acknowledge that the force was not the source of the “leak” about the investigation. It acknowledged that it did confirm to a reporter at the corporation the date of the search of Sir Cliff’s house, but only because the BBC had already contacted the force to say it knew about a planned investigation.
Sir Cliff, who was in Portugal when the search took place, firmly denied any wrongdoing and criticised the fact that BBC journalists were apparently tipped off about the plan.
South Yorkshire police said it was reluctant to cooperate but feared it would lose any potential evidence and struck a deal with the reporter to delay his story in return for being told about the search date.
It said: “Contrary to media reports, this decision was not taken in order to maximise publicity. It was taken to preserve any potential evidence.”
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said he was writing to South Yorkshire police’s chief constable David Crompton to demand an explanation for the force’s actions, saying “serious questions need to be asked” about the handling of the matter, the Telegraph said. The force added it would welcome an investigation into the original leak.