AN alleged leak from Operation Yewtree that led to the BBC’s controversial broadcast of a police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home should have been treated as a “critical incident” prompting an immediate high-level investigation, an inquiry has found.
Andy Trotter, a former chief constable called in to review how South Yorkshire Police reached an exclusive deal with the BBC to film the search, said the force should not have co-operated with the broadcaster and should have recognised “the potential damage to the whole of Operation Yewtree from a leak”.
Instead, South Yorkshire Police chose to help facilitate the BBC’s coverage of the search of the singer’s Berkshire home on August 14 last year.
Mr Trotter, a former British Transport Police chief constable commissioned to carry out the review, strongly criticised the force but also rejected the version of events put forward by the BBC.
South Yorkshire Police raided Sir Cliff’s home after receiving information from Operation Yewtree, the Met Police investigation into sexual abuse allegations involving a range of public figures.
The investigation into Sir Cliff was prompted by an allegation that he sexually assaulted a boy under the age of 16 at an evangelical rally at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground in 1985. The allegation has been strenuously denied.
The BBC’s intensive coverage of the raid, which prompted widescale criticism, was the result of a deal South Yorkshire Police did with BBC reporter Dan Johnson after he approached the force’s communications director Carrie Goodwin on July 14 with information about an investigation into the singer.
The force has consistently stated the reporter said his information came from Operation Yewtree while the Met Police has maintained it can find no evidence the leak came from within its ranks.
The review by Mr Trotter, formerly the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on media, concluded the force should not have agreed to provide details of the search in return for a pledge from the BBC not to potentially compromise the inquiry by running a story in the meantime.
Mr Trotter found: “When Dan Johnson spoke to Carrie Goodwin on the phone on 14 July 2014 and raised with her the SYP investigation into Sir Cliff Richard, the potential damage to the whole of Operation Yewtree from a leak should have been apparent.
“The threat to the SYP investigation and to Operation Yewtree should have been treated as a critical incident and should have triggered a Gold Group under a Chief Officer to determine the next steps.”
The review also rejected the BBC’s claim that its reporter was only in possession of Sir Cliff Richard’s name as a suspect when he first approached the force. Both Ms Goodwin and senior investigating officer Matt Fenwick reiterated previous statements that Mr Johnson already had detailed information and told them it came from Operation Yewtree.
Mr Trotter said: “The suggestion that a journalist could just mention a name of a well-known person to a police head of communications and a senior investigating officer, and get them to reveal details of a highly sensitive and confidential investigation, is not one I believe to be credible.”
He added that “if, as claimed by the BBC... Dan Johnson only had a name and nothing else why did he go to SYP (South Yorkshire Police) rather than the MPS (Met Police) or any other force? Sir Cliff Richard does not live in the area (and) has no connection with SYP other than with this investigation.
“Had the leak come from SYP then that would explain why he went to them, but the BBC have confirmed that SYP was not the source of the leak.
“I have not interviewed Dan Johnson but I have no reason to disbelieve Carrie Goodwin or Matt Fenwick, and their accounts of their meeting with Dan Johnson are supported by their notes.”
A BBC spokeswoman said the broadcaster stands by its reporter’s version of events.
The review also found that the BBC would have been unlikely to run the story at all if South Yorkshire Police had not confirmed information to Mr Johnson.
The BBC has said it would not have run a story had the force approached the corporation’s management and warned premature coverage could damage the investigation.
A spokesman for Sir Cliff said the singer would not be commenting on the findings.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “Mr Trotter outlines six recommendations in his report. I have had discussions with the Chief Constable and he advises me that all recommendations relating to South Yorkshire Police will be implemented.”
A spokeswoman for the force said: “South Yorkshire Police has changed the way it deals with this type of media enquiry and the Force will fully comply with Mr Trotter’s recommendations.”
The spokeswoman added the inquiry into Sir Cliff Richard is ongoing.
The six recommendations in the Trotter review focus on improvements in media strategy, record-keeping and involvement of senior officers in decision-making.