Sir Cliff Richard, Issue 1429
Sir Cliff has strongly protested his innocence since his name was first leaked to the BBC and then broadcast as a suspect in a sex abuse investigation. Not only did Knacker tip off the BBC about the raid on his Sunningdale home, it also supplied aerial photos so that the Beeb’s helicopter news crew could find the property. It was a seedy and shoddy deal and raises serious questions about the BBC’s news management and values. In public, director-general Tony Hall has stuck to BBC News’s threadbare defence of “acting in the public interest”.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced in June that, following Knacker’s 22-month investigation, it was throwing out the allegations of sexual offences dating between 1958 and 1985 made by four men. Yet prior to that the BBC had continued to behave recklessly. Late last year Sir Cliff made his first threat of libel action after the BBC broadcast old footage of him with Jimmy Savile. Beeb journalists have since been ordered never to rerun the footage. Also belatedly verboten for broadcast is footage of the 2014 raid.
One interesting question raised by the case is how BBC reporter Dan Johnson discovered the star was under investigation when Sir Cliff had been neither arrested nor charged. In September 2014, SYP chief constable David Crompton told MPs on the home affairs select committee that Johnson had told his officers he had been given Sir Cliff’s name by officers from Operation Yewtree, the controversial Metropolitan Police inquiry into Savile and others. Crompton (who is currently fighting his recent ousting by SYP) also claimed Johnson had effectively coerced Knacker into cooperating, with the implicit threat that the Beeb would go ahead with the story anyway.
At the same hearing, D-G Hall emphatically denied Crompton’s allegations. There had been no threat. He claimed the story had “no impact” on the police investigation. Too modest! For Knacker, the coverage succeeded in its aim in getting more accusers to step forward.
It is also hard to see how Knacker will escape a big libel bill, particularly as the MPs’ committee has already castigated its handling of both the raid and the BBC as “utterly inept”. The committee concluded that Sir Cliff had “suffered enormous and irreparable damage to his reputation”.
The saga is particularly embarrassing for Hall, his “head of news” James Harding and “head of newsgathering” Jonathan Munro, who all joined the BBC in the aftermath of management cock-ups in late 2012 which saw Auntie first spiking a correct story about Savile and then, er, running a false report levelling allegations of sex abuse against an innocent man, former Tory party chairman Lord McAlpine. McAlpine won a huge libel payment from the Beeb (£185,000 plus costs) and the then D-G George Entwistle was forced to resign. Sounding familiar?
Munro has probably the most to explain, because he was told about the raid on the eve of its execution and gave the go-ahead for scrambling the “news-copter”. But Hall has always defended the “story” to the hilt. Luckily for Harding, he was away at the time.
More stories in the latest issue:
SOFT POWER, HARD CHOICES, DAFT DECISION
Despite a need to make Britain’s voice heard globally post-Brexit, BBC World News faces cuts and BBC Monitoring in Caversham is heading for the chop.
RADIO (ABSOLUTELY) GAGA
As James Purnell heads BBC Radio with a helper to do the day-to-day donkey work, the two new salaries will far exceed that of departing head Helen Boaden.
Ray Snoddy calls for rigorous fact-checking in an era of post-truth politics – so why did he keep quiet when chairing an event for the propaganda channel, RT?
PLUS: Ad Nauseam, Dumb Britain, Desperate Business, Malgorithms & more.