South Yorkshire Police tipped off a BBC reporter in exchange for keeping the story quiet.
The former policing minister Nick Herbert says he has "serious questions" about how the BBC knew about South Yorkshire Police's search of Sir Cliff Richard's home last Thursday. The corporation has received 594 complaints relating to the news report, which saw BBC cameras and a reporter outside the gates of Sir Cliff's Sunningdale home as police conducted a search linked to an alleged historical sex offence.
A BBC reporter outside the home of Sir Cliff Richard [Getty/Peter Macdiarmid}
South Yorkshire Police said it was contacted several weeks ago by a BBC reporter "who made it clear he knew of the existence of an investigation" and that "it was agreed that the reporter would be notified of the date of the house search in return for delaying publication of any of the facts."
A BBC spokesman said: "We followed normal journalistic practice and agreed not to publish a story that might jeopardise a police inquiry."
"We applied normal editorial judgements and are satisfied with our coverage."
However, Mr Herbert - now a Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, said he believed there was a continuing problem with the way police and the media work together.
Police search Sir Cliff Richard's home in Sunningdale, Berkshire [Getty/Peter Macdiarmid]
"When we have a system where police officers or staff think nothing of picking up the phone - either for payment or otherwise - and providing these tip-offs, it suggests that there is a cultural issue, that we do not have sufficient professionalism."
"The code of practice on relationships with the media, which was issued after the Leveson Inquiry by the new College of Policing, is clear that suspects in the ordinary course of things should not be named prior to their charge, not even when they're arrested and Sir Cliff Richard was not even arrested," he said.
Elsewhere, Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, told the Times that South Yorkshire Police's liason with the BBC was "quite inexcusable and unforgivable."
Former home secretary Jack Straw told the same newspaper that he "recoiled" at the "connivance of the police with the BBC", describing the whole debacle as "grotesque."