Beeb and police to be grilled over Cliff Richard ‘leak’

The director general of the BBC and chief constable of South Yorkshire Police will face a grilling by MPs over the leak row surrounding the search of Sir Cliff Richard’s home.

Cliff Richard

Force head David Crompton and Lord Tony Hall have been warned to stand ready to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) after Parliament returns from recess.

A row erupted when the BBC broke news of the search of the pop star’s Berkshire penthouse last Thursday, with a crew reportedly arriving on the scene before the police.

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HASC chairman Keith Vaz has written to Mr Crompton and Lord Hall asking a series of questions about how the BBC found out about the planned search, and asked them to reply by midday on Friday.

Sir Cliff’s apartment was searched by officers from South Yorkshire and Thames Valley Police last week as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a young boy at a religious event in 1985.

The performer, 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.

The broadcaster’s head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro said that the information did not come from South Yorkshire Police, while the force said it had decided to work with the broadcaster to protect its investigation.

The force said: ‘’When a media outlet contacted South Yorkshire Police with information about an investigation, we took the decision to work with them in order to protect the integrity of that investigation.

‘’Since the search took place a number of people have contacted the police to provide information and we must acknowledge that the media played a part in that, for which we are grateful.’’

Thames Valley Police said it had no contact with the media before the search warrant was executed.

Veteran broadcaster and former BBC journalist Sir Michael Parkinson weighed in to the row yesterday in an interview with ITV, accusing his former employer of bad judgment.

“I think the BBC did create an error in judgment, 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.

‘’That’s what wrong with the BBC, I think, on this one. It was the manner in which they chose to actually cover the event - if you can call it an event.”

Mr Vaz has asked Lord Hall how and when the broadcaster discovered the plan, when they first contacted South Yorkshire Police and whether the force had confirmed the time and date of the search.

The Director General must also explain when he first knew about the planned coverage of the search, who authorised use of the broadcaster’s helicopter to film it, why the police have complained to the BBC and whether he believes any BBC journalist has acted inappropriately.

It is accepted practice that journalists will not reveal the identity of confidential sources.

Mr Crompton has been asked to detail who in the force knew about the search and who else might have found out; when he and the force’s press team were made aware; how many times the force had confirmed the time of a search to journalists; and whether the search had been delayed or brought forward.

He has also been asked whether he believes any officer has acted inappropriately, why the force had complained to the BBC, when the broadcaster asked for more information about the search and what agreement was in place about reports of the process.