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BBC and police under attack over raid on Cliff Richard's Berkshire home

The BBC and police come under attack over a deal done to get exclusive access to the raid on the pop star's home over child sex allegations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 1:01am
 

The BBC has been accused of participating in a "witch-hunt" and behaving like the worst tabloid newspapers after using knowledge of the investigation into British singer Cliff Richard to gain exclusive access to the raid on his property.

The corporation and police investigation are under growing pressure from politicians and public figures over their apparent collusion in broadcasting images of the raid on Richard's mansion in Berkshire, southeast England, on Thursday. The search was part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a boy at an evangelical rally in 1985.

The BBC filmed and broadcast the raid live from a helicopter above Richard's residence.

On Sunday, the human right's lawyer Geoffrey Robertson questioned the legality of the warrant used and talk-show host Michael Parkinson said the BBC's actions "would have done the red tops [tabloid newspapers] credit".

On Saturday, South Yorkshire police admitted they had struck a deal with the broadcaster after a BBC reporter learned of their investigation into Richard and approached the force with the story, weeks before the raid.

Police said they had reluctantly given the broadcaster exclusive information before the raid.

"Contrary to media reports, this decision was not taken in order to maximise publicity, it was taken to preserve any potential evidence," police said, adding that it was disappointed the BBC had been slow to acknowledge the force had not been the source of the original leak.

Richard, 73, who is on holiday in Portugal and denies the allegations, was unaware of the raid until his lawyers informed him.

Parkinson condemned the broadcast. "I think anybody not charged should not be named by the police and shouldn't be reported in the newspapers either in my view. I think the Cliff Richard case only highlights the feeling there is some kind of witch-hunt going on."

Robertson said the case called into question the ethics of the BBC and the legality of the search warrant on Richard's house.

"The real question, which goes to the heart of our civil liberties, is how and why this warrant was issued in the first place. The police were under a legal duty to disclose the deal with the BBC to the magistrate. Did they do so?

"How were they able to show a 'reasonable belief' that evidence of 'substantial value' was on the premises, in relation to an alleged assault 25 years ago? How did they convince a judge presiding they could not contact Mr Richard? There must be a real possibility that this warrant was not properly obtained."

The sex abuse allegation that instigated the raid first surfaced in 2012 after an investigative journalist, Mark Williams-Thomas, was contacted by a man after his documentary
Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile was broadcast in October 2012.

Williams-Thomas said he had passed the original allegation and other information to the investigation into abuse by Savile last year but had heard nothing since.

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general and main legal adviser to the British government, said: "I can see that police might not want to warn somebody about a search because they fear a suspect will destroy the evidence. But it was much odder to tip off the BBC that they were carrying out the raid.

"The police have not arrested him or charged him. All they have done is carry out a search of his house so why have they notified the BBC so it could film this [operation]? I simply don't understand it. It is very questionable."

Police investigating the claim of sexual abuse by Richard have said the media coverage had prompted several people to come forward with information.

Richard is likely to be interviewed under caution when he returns from holiday. He denied the allegation and said he would cooperate with the investigation.

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