Sunday, 17 August 2014

Trial by media

When I switched the television on to watch the late evening news the other day, I fully expected the usual round of reports from Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Israel with, perhaps, the lighter touch of another defeat for England on the cricket pitch.  I was, however, astonished to watch police officers searching a house, the pictures obviously being taken from a hovering helicopter.  The we saw a convoy of unmarked police cars leaving the property, the number plates carefully obscured.

Next we were introduced to a reporter who had been sent to Portugal (or maybe he is based there anyway) and who showed us pictures of the Portuguese house owned by Sir Cliff Richard, whose home in Berkshire we had seen being searched earlier.

Thames Valley police, we were informed, had been co-operating with their South Yorkshire colleagues who were following up a complaint against Cliff of alleged sex abuse in Sheffield 30 years ago.

It seems that nobody had bothered to let Cliff know of the search - but the BBC had been given sufficient notice for them to have a helicopter on stand-by and a reporter outside Cliff's Portuguese house!  It is hardly surprising that no advance notice was given to Cliff.  After all, if he did have anything incriminating in the house he would have taken steps to dispose of it.  But why was the BBC "invited" to film the search?

I have no idea whether Cliff Richard is innocent or guilty of the alleged offence.  Strike that, I know he is innocent - at least until he is proven guilty.  That's the basis of the law here in Britain.  And he can only be found guilty by a jury in a court of law.  But given the enormous publicity that has ensued, there is bound to be speculation, especially following the high profile scandals surrounding Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris.  Even if no charges are ever brought against Cliff, there will always be a question mark hanging over him.  Mud sticks.

Whether the BBC contravened its editorial guidelines, as purportedly suggested by South Yorkshire Police, or whether the police encouraged the publicity in the possible hope of drawing out further complaints, is something we shall no doubt learn in due course.  Either way, it seems to me that somebody boobed in spectacular fashion and should be thinking very seriously about his future in the job, whatever that job might be.

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