BBC journalist insists he ‘reported facts’ on Cliff Richard story

Cliff Richard. Picture:  Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
Cliff Richard. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
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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 taking 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.