Sir Cliff Richard's lawyers 'tried to mitigate damage following BBC report'

Cliff Richard's privacy rights were my boss's responsibility, says BBC reporter Dan Johnson

Cliff Richard's lawyer has told the High Court that BBC bosses are to blame for false sexual abuse accusations made against the singer.

Dan Johnson said that he was aware of privacy questions relating to the coverage, but added that people higher up in the corporation dealt with those matters.

Johnson said he had not revealed the identity of his confidential source to others, saying: "It is just a fundamental principle of journalism that you do not disclose or discuss sources with anyone - not even colleagues".

Sir Cliff has told the judge how the BBC's coverage of the police raid on his Berkshire home in August 2014 left him feeling "forever tainted". It says the report on the police inquiry was in the public interest, the coverage was accurate and in good faith, and journalists had respected Sir Cliff's "presumption of innocence".

Today the court heard a message sent to Mr Johnson from his boss Fran Unsworth, deputy director of BBC news and current affairs at the time of the search and since promoted to director.

"It doesn't affect the way I reported this story later on". I knew they were being taken into consideration by editors'. The lawyer explained that in his view, the high profile reporting of the investigation caused "online chatter" about his client that prompted people to make up "spurious allegations".

Mr Johnson said the term did not reflect his "overall approach" to the story.

Met Police officers passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.

Sir Cliff's lawyer accused Mr Johnson of failing to consider whether the sexual assault complaint made against the star was unfounded and whether the broadcast could damage an innocent man.

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Giving evidence to the court on Friday morning, Mr Johnson was asked about whether he believed he had pressurised South Yorkshire Police into cooperating on the story.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, who is representing the 77-year-old singer in his privacy action against the BBC, said Mr Johnson was treated as a "hero" and "the toast of the newsroom".

He added that he wanted to talk to the complainant to see if his account made sense.

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".

Mr Johnson said: 'Of course it could be damaging but that doesn't mean that we don't have a right to report that, a right to tell people what the police are doing'.

Mr Johnson said: 'Of course I am aware there are privacy issues around the story.

The performer has told the judge that the coverage was a "very serious invasion" of his privacy and he wants damages at the "top end" of the scale.

He added that some of those other celebrities had been jailed after victims came forward following publicity about their arrest and charge.


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