Cliff Richard: Search of singer’s home ‘may have been unlawful’

Legal experts claim courts should have been told about BBC deal before approving search warrant

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The Independent Online

The police search of Sir Cliff Richard’s house may have been unlawful because officers did not tell a court the BBC had a deal with the force to televise it, senior lawyers are claiming. 

His home was searched last week by police investigating allegations of a sexual offence involving an underage boy in the 1980s.

Sir Cliff, 73, who was in Portugal when the search was carried out, has denied any wrongdoing.

He has stayed at his Portuguese home since the search of the property in Berkshire, southern England, and was due to return to Britain next month.

The BBC dispatched a helicopter to hover over Sir Cliff’s Berkshire home and stationed its reporters at the singer’s gates before South Yorkshire Police had even arrived to raid the premises.

The search warrant was approved under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The application for this contains a duty of disclosure of anything that could undermine the application or “which for some other reason might affect the court’s decision.”

The Times reports that experts say this would include a deal with the BBC, so that the media coverage could be weighed against the reputational damage Sir Cliff could suffer.

A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire police confirmed to the paper that Sheffield’s magistrate court was not told about the media involvement when approving the warrant. The spokeswoman said: “It is not common practice to inform the court of any media involvement.”

The force said it would not disclose such an arrangement as media deals “not just in this case but in all cases”.

 Video: Police search Cliff Richards' home

The former director of public prosecutions, Lord MacDonald of River Glaven, QC criticised the force for its “completely disreputable conduct” and said its action could make the warrant unlawful.

He told The Times: “To apply for a search warrant, having come to an arrangement with a media organisation in advance, so that the warrant can be used to create an event designed to reflect favourably on the police.

“It is possible that the failure to disclose these facts renders the warrant unlawful.”

Geoffrey Robertson QC added: “It is difficult to believe that any magistrate would have granted a warrant for the world’s press and helicopters to attend the search.”

Sir Cliff Richard has cancelled a performance he was due to give next month in Canterbury Cathedral, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

His spokesman said “he doesn't want the event to be overshadowed by the false allegation and has therefore withdrawn.

"He is sorry for any disappointment or inconvenience caused."