David Davis writes in the Sunday Times about the televised police search of Sir Cliff Richard’s home
As published in the Sunday Times
Policing for publicity risks ruining lives
The extraordinary decision by the leadership of South Yorkshire police to allow the searching of Sir Cliff Richard’s house to be televised, like some morally challenged reality TV show, demonstrates there is something sick at the heart of Britain’s police and justice system today.
The decision to involve the BBC was clearly in breach of the police’s own guidelines. These stipulate identification of suspects at the point of being charged, unless there are compelling “policing” reasons to identify them when they are arrested — such as threat to life or for the prevention of crime. Richard has not been charged or arrested, and only became aware of the search after seeing it on television. In no way did this police-sponsored publicity meet any of the guidelines.
I am left with a horrible suspicion this publicity was driven less to serve the interests of justice, and more to serve the reputational interests of the police service, and the BBC for that matter, after both were badly damaged by the Jimmy Savile fiasco.
Savile was a hideous failure of the police and justice system, compounded by the lazy complicity of many British institutions. Instead of a measured, careful and forensic correction of what was undoubtedly a scandalous miscarriage of justice, we see a rush to the opposite extreme. There is now a real risk of multiple miscarriages of justice in the other direction, with people‘s reputations casually destroyed by police forces that seem to have learnt little or nothing from the Leveson inquiry.
The grotesque mishandling of the Cliff Richard case is not the first, of course. Time after time we have seen the names of “celebrities” released into the public domain when a case is still only a wholly unproven allegation. Jimmy Tarbuck and Jim Davidson were both publicly accused of historical sex crimes, yet neither has ever been charged and both have been told they will face no further action. So much for the presumption of innocence. Even where charges were laid, in the Bill Roache and Nigel Evans cases, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) took these cases to court on visibly flawed evidence.
South Yorkshire police are now claiming that they have had a number of calls since they created this publicity storm, and are using this to justify their actions. This is unfortunately becoming common practice, encouraged by the CPS. The reputational damage done by these allegations never goes away, because the alleged crime is so distasteful.
It is time that we got a grip of this bad practice by the police and CPS. The new attorney general should get to the truth and make a statement to parliament when it returns. He should start by getting to the bottom of how the information got to the BBC.
The attorney general should also reconsider the way the police and CPS handle historical sex offences. The current approach started out well intentioned, but has become slapdash, and has already unjustly damaged a number of people’s reputations. If we are not careful, one day soon it will lead to a wrongful conviction, and bring the whole hideous Savile affair full circle.