Cliff Richard: South Yorkshire Police complain to BBC over search of singer's home 'leak'

The force says the BBC breached its own editorial guidelines after finding out about the investigation

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The Independent Online

South Yorkshire Police has complained to the BBC and accused it of breaching its own editorial guidelines after the broadcaster found out about a search the force was planning to carry out at the home of pop star Sir Cliff Richard.

Officers from South Yorkshire and Thames Valley Police searched the singer's Berkshire penthouse for five hours on Thursday as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a boy under the age of 16 at a religious event in 1985.

BBC cameras, a reporter and a press helicopter were reportedly at the property when eight police officers arrived to search the home.

Sir Cliff, 73, said the allegation was “completely false” and hit out at the fact BBC journalists were apparently tipped off about the plan, saying: “The police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except it would appear to the press”.

The manner in which the police search was conducted was condemned by human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC as "unacceptable".

Writing in The Independent, Robertson said that Sir Cliff’s treatment had been raised a number of questions surrounding civil liberties.

He added that the behaviour of the police breached article eight of the European Convention of Human Rights – the right to privacy.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police reiterated that "at no point" had it leaked information, which has been confirmed publicly by the BBC.

On Friday Jonathan Munro, the BBC's head of news gathering, said there had been lots of questions about the original source of the story, tweeting: "We won't say who, but can confirm it was not South Yorks Police."

The force acknowledged that it did confirm to a reporter at the corporation the date of the search of Sir Cliff's house, but only because a BBC reporter had already contacted the force "some weeks ago" to say it knew about a planned investigation.

The force said it was "disappointing" that the BBC was slow to acknowledge that the force was not the source of the "leak".

South Yorkshire Police said: "The force was contacted some weeks ago by a BBC reporter who made it clear he knew of the existence of an investigation. It was clear he (was) in a position to publish it.

"The force was reluctant to co-operate but felt that to do otherwise would risk losing any potential evidence, so in the interests of the investigation it was agreed that the reporter would be notified of the date of the house search in return for delaying publication of any of the facts.

"Contrary to media reports, this decision was not taken in order to maximise publicity, it was taken to preserve any potential evidence."

The force added that it would now welcome an investigation into the original leak.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "A BBC journalist approached South Yorkshire Police with information about the investigation. The BBC agreed to follow normal journalistic practice and not to publish a story that might jeopardise a police inquiry."