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.
The singer’s Berkshire penthouse was searched for five hours on Thursday by officers from South Yorkshire and Thames Valley Police as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a boy under the age of 16 at a religious event in 1985.
South Yorkshire Police said it was “disappointing” that the BBC was slow to acknowledge that the force was not the source of the “leak”.
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 hit out at the fact BBC journalists were apparently tipped off about the plan.
A press helicopter was reportedly at his home before police even arrived.
In a statement the force 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.”
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.
“South Yorkshire Police considers it disappointing that the BBC was slow to acknowledge that the force was not the source of the leak.
“A letter of complaint has been sent to the Director General of the BBC making it clear that the broadcaster appears to have contravened it’s editorial guidelines.”
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.”