February 24: A staggering misjudgement

WHEN the BBC beamed live pictures of a police raid on the pop singer Sir Cliff Richard’s home from a helicopter circling above the sprawling property in Berkshire, the Corporation no doubt congratulated itself on securing a high-profile scoop.

Yet immediately it raised questions as to how the BBC knew that the search was due to take place into an as yet undisclosed allegation of historic sexual abuse in Sheffield three decades earlier. Indeed, it had stationed reporters at the house’s gates even before police arrived.

The answer, astonishingly, was that South Yorkshire Police had given the Corporation its full co-operation, handing over sensitive information to journalist Dan Johnson and granting him privileged access to the execution of a search warrant.

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Johnson had contacted South Yorkshire Police and made it clear he knew of the investigation, stating – according to police – that his tip-off had come from within Operation Yewtree, launched in the wake of claims made against the late DJ Jimmy Savile.

Yet, rather than launching a full-scale investigation into how such information had been leaked, the police effectively gave the broadcaster carte blanche, with viewers rightly complaining that the resulting, wholly disproportionate coverage made Sir Cliff Richard, who has not faced a single charge, appear guilty.

For a force struggling to rebuild its tarnished reputation it was a staggering lapse of judgement and one that reflects poorly on all who were party to the decision.

As for the BBC, it should surely grasp the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Operation Yewtree investigations given the questions over its own failure to react to allegations against its star presenter Jimmy Savile, which seem to have been an open secret within its corridors for many years. Instead, it shamelessly entered its controversial coverage for a national news award.

Rotherham’s denial

Council inadequacies laid bare

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IT is scarcely credible that a council which turned a collective blind eye to the abuse of 1,400 children by gangs of mainly Pakistani men should continue to abdicate its responsibilities to those it so signally failed.

However, Louise Casey made it clear at yesterday’s House of Commons committee hearing that when she arrived in the South Yorkshire town to conduct an independent inspection of children’s services, she was confronted by a council in denial.

The situation was not as bad as had been painted. They hadn’t been told. It was someone else’s job. The media were out to get them.

Such buck-passing is unworthy of elected officials charged with a responsibility to safeguard young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable to the sort of systematic grooming and abuse which was allowed to take root in Rotherham – not least because of inadequacies within an “inept” council racked by a culture of bullying, sexism, and misplaced political correctness.

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While the authority has now pledged to spend more than £800,000 on youth and social workers and support for child abuse victims – including £30,000 saved by the symbolic scrapping of the chauffeur-driven car used by former leader Roger Stone – Ms Casey is clear that it is an attitudinal change that is required above all else.

It is to be hoped that this can now be provided by new council leader-in-waiting Chris Read, who must harness the desire among the numerous dedicated and committed officials identified by Ms Casey to start afresh and create a culture in which such a shameful abdication of responsibility can never be repeated.

Politics at Oscars

But will Hollywood change?

The Oscars are seldom short of a controversial moment or two, but this year’s edition of the awards ceremony was perhaps the most political yet, with everything from protests at the lack of black nominees to Patricia Arquette’s impassioned plea for equal pay for women.

Hollywood films are viewed by billions of people around the world and, as such, the industry has the power to tackle injustices and change perceptions for the better.

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The question, however, is whether the spotlight-grabbing actions of some of its leading lights will encourage their paymasters to deliver the change

they, and many others, desire.

Sadly, it is far more likely that Hollywood will merely continue to pontificate through its films, while maintaining the status quo that exists within the industry itself. In Hollywood, hypocrisy tends to be the biggest winner of them all.