BBC wins High Court order on MPS over Sir Cliff Richard sex abuse investigation

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has been told it must reveal details of an investigation into the source of the BBC report naming Sir Cliff Richard as a suspected sex offender, a judge has ruled.

Apr 4, 2017
Singer Sir Cliff Richard: Seeking substantial damages

The BBC has won a High Court order requiring the MPS to answer a list of questions about the sex abuse investigation into Sir Cliff.

A judge in London said a statement containing the information should be provided by a senior officer relating to Operation Yewtree, the MPS’ inquiry into historical sex abuse inquiry.

The alleged source in the inquiry passed information to a journalist, the celebrity’s lawyers claim.

However, the MPS said it has found no evidence to support the allegation. But the BBC is seeking further details in a bid to protect its source.

Sir Cliff is suing the BBC and South Yorkshire Police (SYP) over reports naming him as a suspected sex offender.

He launched legal action in the wake of coverage of a five-hour raid by eight SYP officers at his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014.

The singer has been described in written submissions by his lawyers as having suffered ”profound and long-lasting” damage. The BBC has said it will “vigorously” defend the action.

During a short preliminary hearing on Monday (April 3), Mr Justice Mann said the BBC’s application related to the proceedings brought by Sir Cliff.

He said Sir Cliff had “formally asked” the BBC whether its source for the story was within Operation Yewtree.

The judge added: “The BBC seeks to resist disclosing information on the ground that it would, or could, compromise its source.”

Mr Justice Mann said: “In order to make its case, the BBC seeks to ascertain the number of people within Yewtree who might have known about the investigation at the time in order to be able to, as I understand it, put flesh on the bones of what would otherwise be a vague assertion as to the risk of identifying the source if the pool is small.”

He pointed out: “The BBC declines to make any admissions at all whether the source was within Operation Yewtree.

“The BBC seeks to get information as to the size of the pool from the Metropolitan Police Service.”

Gavin Millar, for the BBC, said the information would help it fight off an attempt by Sir Cliff to get them to confirm whether the source was in Operation Yewtree or not.

The judge said the application was made in relation to a further hearing next month which will deal with the “important” issue of protection of sources.

That hearing will centre on whether or not the BBC should be required to answer the question whether its reporter’s source was “to the best of his knowledge or belief” from within Operation Yewtree, or a person who had obtained the information from a member of the team.

Sir Cliff’s lawyers say they are not asking for information which might reveal the source’s identity.

Mr Justice Mann has previously been told that in late 2013, a man had made an allegation to the MPS, saying he had been sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff at a public event at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane football stadium in Sheffield as a child in 1985.

MPS officers had passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.

Sir Cliff had denied the allegation ”as soon as it was brought to his attention” and in June last year, prosecutors announced he would face no charges. Subsequently SYP apologised “wholeheartedly for the additional anxiety caused” to Sir Cliff by the force’s “initial handling of the media interest” in its investigation into the singer.

The singer says his privacy was invaded and the prospect of living somewhere which had been “so publicly violated” distressed him, adding that the furore threw his “creative and business plans” into disarray – and forced him to delay the release of an album of “rock ‘n’ roll classics”. He wants “very substantial” damages.

The MPS will have just over two weeks to give a written statement answering a series of questions posed by the BBC. The hearing reconvenes on May 4.

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