A BBC reporter had an “understanding” with a senior detective over a search of Sir Cliff Richard’s home, a court heard on Friday 20 April 2018. Dan Johnson broke the story about the apartment being raided following an allegation of child sexual assault.
Lawyers representing Sir Cliff have suggested that Mr Johnson “strong-armed” South Yorkshire Police into telling him when the search would take place, and that he threatened to reveal information against detectives’ wishes if he did not get co-operation.
But today Mr Johnson told Mr Justice Mann at the High Court that that had not happened.
“There was an understanding between us,” he said. “If I kept quiet … They would confirm details of the search.”
Sir Cliff his suing the BBC over coverage of the South Yorkshire Police search of his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014, and is seeking damages at the “top end” of the scale, saying that the coverage, which involved the use of a helicopter, was a “very serious invasion” of his privacy.
The BBC says its coverage was accurate, in good faith, and was a matter of public interest. Mr Justice Mann has heard Mr Johnson asked a South Yorkshire Police press officer if Sir Cliff was on the “radar” after getting a tip that the singer was being investigated.
Mr Johnson said he told BBC editors that it was “possible” that the people from South Yorkshire Police whom he met had felt “pressured” to co-operate with him.
He told senior staff that force’s head of corporate communications, Carrie Goodwin, and Detective Superintendent Matthew Fenwick “may have perceived” that he was ready to run a story about the force’s investigation into Sir Cliff, he said.
Her had done so because he did not want the editors to think the pair had given him information they should not have, and he was trying to persuade them to amend a BBC article which suggested that the force wanted to “maximise publicity” for the raid.
He was trying to “de-escalate” a row erupting between the force and his employers, Mr Johnson told the court, adding: “I was just trying to calm this row that was blazing around me at this stage.” He was also trying to maintain a “positive relationship” with South Yorkshire Police.
Mr Johnson admitted he did not correct Mr Fenwick’s “mistaken perception” that it seemed the reporter knew as much as the force did about the allegation against Sir Cliff. “I didn’t want to challenge that assertion, even though it wasn’t accurate,” he said.
He sat in silence and did not appear “surprised” while the detective gave him details of the force’s investigation, he said, adding: “It is a journalistic practice to wait and see what you are told to confirm a story.”
Mr Johnson denied telling fellow BBC reporter Danny Shaw that he got his information from a police source. The court heard Mr Shaw referred to “another officer” as the source of Mr Johnson’s tip-off about the investigation into Sir Cliff in a note he made of a phone conversation between the two journalists.
But Mr Johnson said his colleague had “made an assumption” and that he had not stated his information came from police. He said:
“I kept this as vague as possible because I was as uncomfortable having the discussion then as I am now. But I told him it was a credible source. I didn’t tell him that it was definitely someone in a police force.”
He also denied that his confidential source was someone working on Operation Yewtree. He said he did not know the information had originated from within Yewtree until preparing his witness statement for this trial.
The case continues.
This report originally appeared on the online subscription service Media Lawyer and is reproduced with permission and thanks.