The BBC has apologised to Cliff Richard for his “distress” but insisted that it has a responsibility to report stories which are “in the public interest”.
The singer was cleared last week some twenty months after South Yorkshire Police raided his home investigating allegations of historic sexual offences.
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After police struck a deal with the BBC, the broadcaster was on hand to exclusively film officers arriving at Richard’s home at 9.30am on 14 August 2014. That footage was used to lead the BBC TV lunchtime news that day. Live footage was broadcast by the BBC of officers leaving the Berkshire penthouse.
The BBC said last night: “The BBC is very sorry that Sir Cliff Richard, who has worked as a musician and performer for so many years with the organisation, has suffered distress.
“The BBC’s responsibility is to report fully stories that are in the public interest. Police investigations into prominent figures in public life are, of course, squarely in the public interest, which is why they have been reported by all news organisations in this country.
“Once the South Yorkshire Police had confirmed the investigation and Sir Cliff Richard’s identity and informed the BBC of the timing and details of the search of his property, it would neither have been editorially responsible nor in the public interest to choose not to report fully the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard because of his public profile.
“The BBC, at every stage, reported Sir Cliff’s full denial of the allegations.
“The BBC, therefore, stands by the decision to report the investigation undertaken by the South Yorkshire Police and the search of his property.
“Sir Cliff has made the argument that the identity of people under investigation into historic allegations should not be made public until they are charged. This view raises significant questions about the scrutiny of the Police and public confidence that allegations are investigated.
“That said, we respect the fact that he is making an important statement in the debate over balancing privacy rights with the public interest. Ultimately, though, deciding whether people should remain anonymous while the subject of a police investigation is a matter for Parliament.
“The Home Affairs Select Committee reviewed the editorial decisions made by the BBC and concluded, ‘we see nothing wrong in their decision to run the story’.”
Richard told the Daily Mail he was “bitterly disappointed to see that while finally appearing to offer an apology for the distress I suffered, the BBC do not acknowledge they themselves have caused it”.
He said: “They are at the same time undermining their own apology by claiming that they were acting in the public interest.
“I fail to understand how this so-called story was in the public interest and I believe that is a view shared by millions of fair-minded people. So, in due course we may have to let the courts decide this issue.”
A BBC reporter approached South Yorkshire Police after finding out independently that they were investigating allegations against Richard.
Chief constable David Crompton told MPs in September 2014 that officers decided to share details of the investigation with the BBC because: “My concern was that if we showed the BBC the door, the very clear impression which had been left with my staff in the media department was that they were likely to publish the story. That would have impeded our investigation.”
BBC director general Tony Hall told MPs: “Had the chief constable come to the news editor, the head of news gathering, James Harding or myself and said to us if you run this story you will hinder this investigation we would have not have run this story…”
Last year the BBC’s Cliff Richard coverage was nominated for scoop of the year at the RTS awards.
The Daily Mail yesterday condemned what it described as the “completely inexcusable…trial by TV” which it said was “actively encouraged by both South Yorkshire Police and the BBC, which sent a helicopter to film the raid on Sir Cliff’s home.”