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Reporter who broke Cliff Richard story on BBC had 'guessed' it was him

Sir Cliff Richard arrives at the Rolls Building in London
Sir Cliff Richard arrives at the Rolls Building in London

By Sian Harrison

A BBC reporter who broke a story about Sir Cliff Richard's home being searched by police following a child sex assault allegation has told a High Court judge that he "just reported the facts".

Dan Johnson accepted that his story had "distressed" the 77-year-old singer.

But he said that distress was not "caused by me uniquely".

Mr Johnson outlined his thoughts while giving evidence to Mr Justice Mann at a High Court trial in London yesterday.

A barrister representing Sir Cliff asked Mr Johnson if he was prepared to offer the singer a "personal apology in court".

But the judge intervened and said such a line of questioning was "not helpful".

Sir Cliff has sued the BBC over coverage of the South Yorkshire Police search in August 2014 and wants damages at the "top end" of the scale.

He says the coverage, which involved the use of a helicopter, was a "very serious invasion" of his privacy.

The BBC disputes his claims.

Bosses say coverage of the search of the apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, was accurate and in good faith.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, who heads Sir Cliff's legal team, asked Mr Johnson if he accepted that his story had caused "massive damage and distress" to the singer.

"I accept that he has been upset and distressed about it," Mr Johnson replied.

"I accept the distress he feels, I don't accept it was caused by me uniquely.

"Obviously South Yorkshire Police were part of that and my colleagues at the BBC who were part of the story as well.

"I don't believe I was at fault, I just reported the facts of a story.

"I am sure the investigation would have been distressing."

Mr Johnson said his primary concern was around himself and his position when filming near the singer's home.

He said decisions about the helicopter being used to gather images were taken by senior editorial staff.

"It wasn't for me to consider the bigger picture, the wider implications of what was being broadcast," he told the court. "It wasn't my responsibility and I hadn't seen everything that was being filmed."

He added: "If you are talking about the general idea of having the helicopter there then I thought that it was useful to tell people what was going on."

Mr Johnson had told the judge, in a written witness statement, how he guessed Sir Cliff's name after a "contact" told him police were looking at "just one more major figure".

He said he had heard "previous rumours" about Sir Cliff.

Mr Johnson said his contact had spoken of allegations being "closer to home".

He said his previous work had been in Sheffield and he took that to mean that South Yorkshire Police were involved.

The reporter explained how he had asked Carrie Goodwin, South Yorkshire Police's head of communications, whether Sir Cliff was on the "radar".

He said her response was an "audible gasp".

Mr Johnson said: "I did not put the South Yorkshire Police under any pressure in order for them to provide me with the information that they did."

Lawyers have told Mr Justice Mann how in late 2013, a man made an allegation to the Metropolitan Police, saying he had been sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff during an event featuring evangelist Billy Graham at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane football stadium, when he was a child in 1985.

Met Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014. Sir Cliff denied the allegation and in June 2016 prosecutors announced that he would face no charges.

Belfast Telegraph


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