BBC head of newsroom defends Cliff Richard scoop: 'We pursued it. We pinned it down...We reported it accurately'

Head of the BBC newsoom Mary Hockaday (pictured) has defended the way the corporation covered the search of the home of pop singer Cliff Richard.

South Yorkshire Police has revealed that it tipped off the BBC in advance of the raid in Sunningdale, Berkshire, after being contacted by a reporter some weeks ago.

It said in a statement: “The force was reluctant to cooperate 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.”

The BBC filmed the arrival of officers at Richard’s home on 13 August and also filmed the search using a helicopter.

The Guardian reports that Hockaday told the Edinburgh TV festival: “We got some information that may suggest there was a story there.

“We pursued it. We pinned it down. We did absolutely nothing to jeopardise the police inquiry.”

She said the helicopter was deployed as “the best way to get pictures of the location and the property”. She said that the only live shot used from the helicopter was in the middle of the afternoon “when they were quite high up shooting the police cars when they were leaving”.

She denied that the coverage could prejudice the Richard investigation saying: “We reported it accurately. Our coverage was shot through with clear denials.”

Richard attended a police station on Saturday and was interviewed under caution by police officers investigating an allegation of a sexual assault at a religious event in 1985.

South Yorkshire Police has complained to the BBC Trust about an analysis article which appeared on the BBC website on the afternoon of the raid which said: “The media presence at Sir Cliff Richard's home, therefore, was highly unusual – it appears to be a deliberate attempt by police to ensure maximum coverage.

“That's not illegal – but there are strict guidelines – and the force may have to justify its approach in the months to come.”

South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton said on Friday: "The force contacted the BBC but the corporation refused to withdraw or adapt the article.

"This appeared to be an attempt by the BBC to distance itself from what had taken place and cover up the fact that it had initiated contact with the force about the story.

"This was misleading and was known by the BBC to be inaccurate."

A BBC spokesman said: "We have set out our position. The story was clearly in the public interest. The police complained specifically about an analysis piece on the BBC website and subsequently, and highly unusually, we confirmed that South Yorkshire Police was not the source of our story."

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