A BBC reporter who reported on the South Yorkshire Police search of Sir Cliff Richard’s home texted a force press officer about a “bonkers but brilliant” day, a High Court judge was told today.
The press officer replied saying she was getting “lots of grief from the media” because “everyone thinks we tipped you off”, the court heard.
Detail of the text conversation between BBc journalist Dan Johnson and Carrie Goodwin, head of corporate communications at South Yorkshire Police, emerged as Mr Justice Mann heard evidence during the latest stage of a High Court trial in London.
Gavin Millar QC, leading the BBC’s legal team, outlined the message exchange as he questioned Goodwin.
The 77-year-old singer told how seeing coverage of the search at his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire in August 2014 was like “watching burglars” going through his belongings.
Sir Cliff is suing the BBC over its coverage of the police search, which was carried out after a historical sex assault allegation, and is seeking damages at the “top end” of the scale.
This BBC disputes this and says its reporting was accurate and in good faith.
Millar told the court that Goodwin texted Johnson a few hours after South Yorkshire Police officers travelled to carry out a search and also after a BBC broadcast to ask how the day had gone.
Johnson texted back saying: “Bonkers but brilliant,” the court heard, to which Goodwin replied: “Everyone thinks we tipped you off so lots of grief from the media, but nothing we cannot handle.”
Sir Cliff’s lawyers have already told the court that the BBC got information about the sex assault allegation against him from a “tainted” police source – someone connected to Operation Yewtree, a wider Metropolitan Police inquiry into sex abuse allegations.
Justice Rushbrooke QC, for Sir Cliff, said lawyers knew “for a fact” that “Yewtree was the source”.
He suggested that the journalist who obtained the information must have known it was “improperly” released by someone involved in a “highly sensitive” police operation.
Another of Sir Cliff’s lawyers accused the BBC of “trying to pass the buck” over its coverage of the raid.
Solicitor Gideon Benaim, a specialist in reputation protection at law firm Simkins, said he did not have enough information on the day of the raid to try and get an injunction to block reporting of the search.
The lawyer, whose list of celebrity clients includes J.K. Rowling and Gordon Ramsay, said he was aware there was a media presence, but did not realise the “circus” outside the singer’s home was the BBC alone.
Cross-examined by Millar, he told the court: “The idea that we might have been able to apply for an injunction is really, in this situation, just ridiculous.
“It is simply, in my view, that the BBC are trying to pass the buck and blame for what the BBC did that day onto the claimant.”
TV presenter Gloria Hunniford, a friend of Sir Cliff’s, told the court in a written statement that he had felt “violated and betrayed” by the BBC’s decision to broadcast footage of the raid.
Hunniford said: “He seemed utterly distraught that the search and allegations against him had been broadcast so widely around the world, and about what everyone must be thinking about him.”
She had watched the BBC report of the police search, she said, adding: “I could not believe what I was seeing.
“He is a gentle and kind soul and I was extremely worried about how he would be reacting.”
It was revealed in the course of the High Court trial last week that South Yorkshire Police has agreed to pay Sir Cliff £400,000 and pick up some of his legal fees. The force wants the BBC to contribute to this sum.
The court was told yesterday that Johnson made an “arrangement” with the police force not to report what he knew about the investigation until the raid on Sir Cliff’s home took place.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Summers