I was delighted to hear the news from the Crown Prosecution Service that Sir Cliff Richard ‘will face no further action over allegations of historical sex abuse’. I am pleased that these enquiries have finally been closed because I have had a number of meetings with Sir Cliff over the years and have always found him to be a good, gracious and honourable man.
Yet the announcement must not go without comment. As Sir Cliff’s statement points out, there are a number of disquieting aspects to the way in which the enquiry has been handled.
First of all, whether by carelessness or design, the enquiry was carried out in a way that ensured the maximum possible publicity. For instance, how and why was the BBC tipped off (surely illegally) that there would be a raid on his home?
At a time when a number of music and media celebrities of the last few decades are being outed as pedophiles or predatory sex offenders, the highly publicised investigation seems almost to have been calculated to make some mud stick.
Second, the sheer duration of the enquiry – almost two years – has produced the maximum possible psychological pressure. In English law there is the long-established and honourable principle of someone being ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Here, however, we have a man who has, in effect, been sentenced to public sneers and insinuations, not simply before being found guilty but before he was even charged or tried. It's worth noting that one of the people accusing Sir Cliff Richard of child sex abuse was previously arrested on suspicion of blackmailing him. Shouldn't this fact have resulted in the police acting with more caution?
There is a very thin line between seeking to prosecute and seeking to persecute.
Finally, all that Sir Cliff has been offered is the flat statement that the police ‘have closed their enquiries’. This is a long way from a declaration of innocence: in many minds the shadow of suspicion will linger.
Looking at the whole sorry and vastly expensive affair, I find myself wondering with some unease if there are now people in the Crown Prosecution Service who are specifically seeking high-profile targets with a view to dragging them down. And, in a similar frame of mind, I find myself further asking whether, in an age in which it is fashionable to be openly opposed to religion and specifically to Christianity, Sir Cliff was targeted precisely because of his openly stated faith.
One definition of the term 'witch-hunt' is 'a campaign directed against a person or group holding views considered unorthodox or a threat to society'. There is a very thin line between seeking to prosecute and seeking to persecute. Some of us will suspect that in this case that line may have been crossed.
It is not enough that this wretched investigation be allowed to slip into history. Someone needs to be asked some very hard questions about how this was so badly mismanaged.
The point of any justice system is to catch the guilty and spare the innocent. This has done the very opposite.