David Crompton, who was chief constable at the time of the search, said in a witness statement to the High Court that he “became very concerned” because the television coverage was “something more” than he expected to see. He said
“I had thought that there may be some limited footage of my officers going into Sir Cliff Richard’s property. What I saw was much more extensive and I thought it was intrusive.“
Mr Crompton said he first became aware South Yorkshire Police would be investigating Sir Cliff in the summer of 2014. He was later told BBC reporter Dan Johnson was aware of the investigation.
“I can remember very clearly thinking that there was a journalist who
knew as much as I did about the allegations,” Mr Crompton said.
“This information was deeply concerning to me because I thought that a media report on a high profile case, which was in its infancy, could
fatally compromise SYP’s ability to carry out a thorough investigation
which, as I have said, was my priority. The thought of a journalist reporting on the investigation before SYP had been able to conduct the search was a particular concern.”
He believed the story was “bound to come out” now that the media was aware of it, and thought the BBC were likely to report it “imminently”, he said.
Providing the BBC with information about the search was a “small concession” which he decided was necessary to “protect the integrity” of the investigation.
Today, Mr Crompton told the court that South Yorkshire Police’s relationship with the BBC over the search was a “shotgun wedding”.
He did not want publicity for the search but he agreed that the corporation should be told the date and time it would be mounted to avoid compromising the investigation.
“We were in a difficult position,” he told Mr Justice Man on 26 April 2018.
“I considered it to be of paramount importance that we were able to complete an unhindered and untainted investigation and one might say the relationship with the BBC became a shotgun wedding.“
Mr Crompton denied a proposition put to him by Gavin Millar QC, for the BBC, that the evidence was “quite clear” the police force wanted publicity of its investigation into Sir Cliff.
Those within the force who knew about it had taken care not to refer to the investigation in writing, to avoid any possible leaks, Mr Crompton said.
But, he said, “all that changed” following a conversation between reporter Dan Johnson and the force’s head of communications, Carrie Goodwin, in which Mr Johnson indicated he was aware that Sir Cliff was under investigation. He said:
“This (publicity) was specifically not wanted, however that conversation was a game-changer. What I wanted was that we should be able to complete the investigation without it being compromised.
I didn’t want the television coverage, that was not the ideal, however the situation we were in was that this was, in effect, the price to pay.“
Mr Crompton said he thought the BBC’s use of a helicopter to film above Sir Cliff’s property was “disproportionate”.
He accepted he hadn’t raised any concerns about it being used before the search, but said this was because he didn’t think it was a possibility.
“I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that the BBC
would do what they did. I have never seen coverage like this ever in my police career.”
Mr Crompton said he knew immediately there would be “repercussions” when he saw BBC coverage of the search.
He saw the broadcast while on the beach during a family holiday in Wales – but was “not expecting” to see footage filmed from a helicopter.
“Having looked at the footage, I immediately formed the view there would be repercussions,” he said.
“I was expecting to see officers going in from the street, I wasn’t expecting to see a helicopter, and I felt that would change the perspective of people viewing this and attract criticism – and we would be part of that.“
The allegation against Sir Cliff was “weak” and that he had believed from the outset the police investigation was “unlikely” to lead to a charge or prosecution, he went on.
He also said he had made a mistake and got the wrong broadcaster when he texted a colleague from the beach to say the story “should be on Sky by 1pm” on the day of the search.
Mr Millar QC put it to Mr Crompton that South Yorkshire Police wanted publicity of its investigation into a high-profile figure accused of a sexual offence against a child – the force had been heavily criticised over its failings in relation to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and the coverage would show officers “fearlessly investigating”.
But Mr Crompton denied that the force wanted publicity, adding: “I fundamentally disagree.”
The case was adjourned to 8 May 2018 when closing legal submissions will be made.
This report originally appeared on the online subscription service Media Lawyer and is reproduced with permission and thanks.