The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police has apologised to pop star Sir Cliff Richard if the force was "insensitive" about the search of his home. David Crompton told the Home Affairs Select Committee that his inquiry had been "fatally compromised" by a claimed leak of information from Scotland Yard to the BBC, leading his force to make a deal with the broadcaster.
A crew was outside the gated Berkshire development where Sir Cliff has a penthouse apartment before police on the day of the search last month. Mr Crompton said: "We had a job to do but I do apologise to Sir Cliff if we were insensitive about the way that we did that. We had a job to do, and we have an investigation. The problem is that investigation could never be done in a low-profile way because it was fatally compromised from the outset." Committee chairman Keith Vaz asked: "By Operation Yewtree?" Mr Crompton replied: "Yes."
During questioning by the influential committee, Mr Crompton said that the BBC had approached his force with detailed information about their inquiry, and staff were convinced that the broadcaster would run a story without some kind of deal.
"We were placed in a very difficult position because of the original leak and the BBC came to us knowing everything that we knew, as far as the investigation was concerned," he said. "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. I'm confident that we made the right decision in difficult and unusual circumstances."
Chairman of the committee Keith Vaz put it to the senior officer that the broadcaster had blackmailed him, but Mr Crompton replied: "Blackmail is a very strong word. It put us in a very difficult position." South Yorkshire Police has already complained to the BBC about its coverage of the search of Sir Cliff's Berkshire penthouse last month, claiming that an analysis piece posted on the broadcaster's website was an attempt to distance itself from what had happened.
Chairman of the committee Keith Vaz questions David Crompton
Mr Crompton said: "The coverage was disproportionate and made our actions look heavy-handed and intrusive. I do regret that." The BBC has already confirmed that the leak about the inquiry did not come from South Yorkshire Police. Mr Crompton told the Committee that BBC staff had "made it clear" to South Yorkshire Police that the source of the leak came from within Operation Yewtree, Scotland Yard's investigation of sexual abuse allegations against disgraced presenter Jimmy Savile and others.
The police chief admitted he did not go to BBC senior management to ask them not to run the story - but added there were examples given during the Leveson inquiry into culture, practice and ethics of the press in which journalists had ignored such requests. He said: "I did not really have that much faith that we could trust it wouldn't be published.
"You only have to look at Leveson to find a number of examples that were core to that particular inquiry where the media decided to publish anyway. That was something very much in my mind."
Mr Crompton argued the analysis piece on the BBC website had given the false impression South Yorkshire Police had worked with the media outlet to generate publicity for the force. However, Mr Vaz said BBC director of news and current affairs James Harding has claimed the police chief has text messages and emails in his possession that would disprove this argument.
Agreeing to hand over the text messages and emails, Mr Crompton added: "Texts and emails are read in the cold light of day. What you can not add to that equation by publishing them are any phone calls that may intersperse different texts or emails and some of that is key to where Mr Harding might be going.
"If you just read the emails you can get an impression. Unless you're aware of some of the phone calls interspersed with the emails you don't get the full impression." Mr Crompton said that he, his head of media Carrie Goodwin, and the senior investigating officer Matt Fenwick agreed to make the deal with the BBC.
He told the committee that he believed the leak had come from Operation Yewtree because "the detail of the information was basically everything that we had, and we had less than two weeks before received that information from Operation Yewtree". Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt has said the force is investigating whether the leak came from London.
In a letter to the committee, he said: "If our inquiries reveal that Yewtree, or any other Metropolitan Police member of staff, is the source of the story to the BBC, then we will do all we can to identify them and hold them to account." The broadcaster was informed the day before the raid, and told not to turn up at the scene before 9.30am, but a crew arrived hours before the search began.
Mr Crompton admitted it was "a little naive" to assume that journalists would not arrive before the operation. The committee has written to Sir Cliff to ask him what he knew of the police operation, and will publish his reply today, Mr Vaz said.
Crompton appeared in front of the Committee on Tuesday
In a subsequent evidence session, BBC director general Lord Hall told the Committee: "Had the chief constable come to a news editor, head of news gathering, James Harding, director of news or myself and said to us 'if you run this story you will hamper this investigation, it would be damaging to this investigation' we would not have run the story.
"I want you to be absolutely clear about that. We would not have run the story." Lord Hall said reporter Dan Johnson went to South Yorkshire Police to discuss "a number of stories"and had a tip off from a source which he will not reveal referring to Cliff Richard. Lord Hall said there was "no hint in any of that of us knowing any more than the name Cliff Richard".
The broadcaster's head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro said that Mr Johnson was even sent an aerial shot of the apartment block where Sir Cliff has a property to help the journalist identify the right location. He said that the reporter denies having said anything about Operation Yewtree, or giving "any clue" as to the source of the original tip off, and had kept notes of his meeting with South Yorkshire Police before the raid.
Mr Munro said: "Dan Johnson totally denies mentioning Yewtree by name or the Metropolitan Police force or indeed any other clue as to the identity of the source for the original story. I wasn't in that meeting with South Yorkshire Police but I believe him to he an honest and professional journalist and he completely denies this."