Latest: BBC reporter who broke story about Cliff Richard's home 'guessed singer's name'

Update - 4.30pm: A BBC reporter who broke a story about Sir Cliff Richard's home being searched by police following an allegation of sex assault has told a High Court judge how he guessed the singer's name after a contact told him police were looking at "just one more major figure".

Dan Johnson said he had heard "previous rumours" about Sir Cliff, and he was determined to protect his confidential source".

Sir Cliff has sued the BBC over coverage of the South Yorkshire Police search, which was staged after a sex assault allegation, in August 2014 and wants damages at "top end" of the scale.

He has told a judge that the coverage 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.

Mr Justice Mann is overseeing a trial at the High Court in London.

Mr Johnson has made a written witness statement and answered questions from barristers.

He told in his witness statement of how he spoke to a "contact" in June 2014.

They had talked about high-profile cases involving celebrities.

"The contact said there was just one more major figure the police were looking at," said Mr Johnson.

"I guessed this to be Sir Cliff Richard because of previous rumours I had heard about him.

Cliff Richard

"The contact confirmed I had guessed the right name."

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 contact did not correct me," said Mr Johnson.

"Because of the context of the other cases mentioned, and rumours I had heard about Sir Cliff's sexuality, I took from this the impression that it was an allegation of sexual abuse involving a boy and dating back some years.

"I also got the strong impression that the police were due to take further action."

Mr Johnson said he was "determined to protect my confidential source".

He added: "I did not put 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.

A BBC spokesman said that the corporation had reported Sir Cliff's "full denial of the allegations at every stage".

- South Yorkshire Police agreed to pay Sir Cliff Richard £400,000 after settling a claim he brought against the force, the judge has heard.

The singer had initially also sued South Yorkshire Police after complaining about coverage of the raid. But Mr Justice Mann was told how in May 2017 that dispute had been settled.

2.43pm: Cliff Richard PR 'spoke to BBC less than two hours before search broadcast'

One of Sir Cliff Richard's public relations advisers has told the British High Court he had a conversation with a BBC representative less than two hours before a 1pm news broadcast of a police search of the singer's home in August 2014.

Phil Hall said he had not been given any hint of the nature of the broadcast and nothing had been said about helicopters or "quasi-rolling coverage" or "special deals with the police".

Sir Cliff has taken legal action against the BBC over coverage of the South Yorkshire Police search of his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, which was staged after a sex assault allegation in August 2014, and wants damages at "top end" of the scale.

He said the coverage was a "very serious invasion" of his privacy.

The BBC disputes his claims.

Bosses say coverage of the search was accurate and in good faith.

Cliff Richard arriving at court today.

Mr Hall told the judge, in a written witness statement, he spoke to Bernadette Kitterick at about 11.15am.

He said he believed Ms Kitterick had tried to get hold of him "slightly earlier".

"I do not recall whether I phoned Ms Kitterick or whether she phoned me at 11.15am," said Mr Hall, a former journalist who edited the News of the World for five years before founding the PHA Media public relations agency.

"But I am reasonably clear in my recollection of what Ms Kitterick said. Our conversation was relatively short.

"She said that the South Yorkshire Police were searching (Sir Cliff's) apartment and that the BBC were present onsite.

"She then informed me that the BBC was planning to run a story about the search later that day and they would like to have a statement about it from my client.

"She also said that the BBC were prepared to give me some time to do that.

"I replied by asking Ms Kitterick if the BBC intended to name (Sir Cliff) in their story. She replied that she did not know."

He said he had not been prepared to say anything on behalf of Sir Cliff, "not even 'no comment'".

"My reasoning, in essence, was in seeking to obtain a comment from (Sir Cliff), Ms Kitterick was not interested in anything he might have to say," said Mr Hall.

"What she was trying to do, in my view, was to legitimise the BBC's story, i.e. to obtain an 'on-the-record' comment from (Sir Cliff) which enabled them to say that (Sir Cliff) had confirmed it was his apartment which had been searched."

He added: "In relation to this phone conversation with Ms Kitterick at 11.15am UK time, Ms Kitterick said nothing which gave me any hint that the BBC was planning broadcasts of the nature that emerged at 1pm UK time.

Nothing was said about helicopters, or exclusives, or live or quasi-live rolling coverage, or any special deals with the police, or anything else of that nature.

Nor was anything said at that stage about the BBC planning to go to air at 1pm.

"As I have already said, the impression that Ms Kitterick gave me at this stage was that the BBC were planning to run a story at some point later in the day, and there wasn't any great urgency about it because they were prepared to give me some time to prepare a statement."

Mr Hall said a press release was issued on Sir Cliff's behalf at about 2pm and added: "By that time, the BBC had identified (Sir Cliff) as the person whose property was being searched by the police in Sunningdale (I believe it was still in the process of being searched), and the story had gone all around the world."

Mr Hall denied leaking information.

He said the BBC had written to Sir Cliff's lawyers describing an article published on the Mail Online website on the day of the search.

"It is said by the BBC that this article was published at 1307, and that this was six minutes after the BBC ran the story on the News At One," said Mr Hall.

"The BBC go on to say that I have close contacts with the publisher of the Mail Online, and effectively accuses me of being in contact with Mail Online and perhaps other media organisations as well, leaking information about this story to them.

"This is simply preposterous.

"I was trying to protect (Sir Cliff) from media intrusion, and acted in what I believed to be his best interests at all times.

"For the record, I have good contacts not just at the Mail/Mail Online, but most if not all of the main UK news publishers. I did not 'leak' anything of this nature to any of them."

Earlier, one of Sir Cliff's solicitors told the High Court how the singer faced a "crisis situation" following a BBC broadcast of a police search of his home.

Cliff Richard.

Mr Justice Mann began overseeing the trial, at the High Court in London, last Thursday.

The judge has heard that the police inquiry lasted nearly two years following the search in August 2014.

Sir Cliff was not arrested and prosecutors announced that he would not be charged in the summer of 2016.

Mr Benaim said lawyers did their best to "mitigate the damage" following the BBC broadcast.

"Quite clearly, but for the BBC actions on the day, there would have been no need for the vast amount of work we did for (Sir Cliff)," Mr Benaim said in a witness statement.

"In all likelihood we would have just carried on advising the client in the same low-level and intermittent basis we had been advising him on before August 14, 2014."

He added: "There were approximately 13,000 emails exchanged in relation to the matter between August 2014 and June 2016, which highlights the sheer volume of work that this firm undertook for (Sir Cliff) during the period."

Mr Benaim said Sir Cliff had been in a "crisis" situation.

He said: "We worked throughout the period alongside Sir Cliff's PR advisers, which is an entirely normal practice and indeed necessary in crisis situations, which is clearly what Sir Cliff found himself in due to the BBC's actions."

Sir Cliff said nothing to waiting journalists as he arrived at the hearing today.

The BBC reporter who broke the story about Sir Cliff's home being searched is preparing to give evidence.

Dan Johnson is scheduled to answer questions from lawyers representing Sir Cliff this afternoon.

- PA


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