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Cliff Richard privacy case: I was not heavy-handed, says BBC reporter

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    Sir Cliff outside courtImage copyright PA
    Image caption Sir Cliff says he suffered “profound and long-lasting damage” from the BBC’s coverage

    The BBC journalist who broke the story about the police investigation into Sir Cliff Richard has denied being “heavy-handed” to get the exclusive.

    Dan Johnson said he did not pressurise South Yorkshire Police into divulging details of their probe into the singer.

    Sir Cliff, 77, is suing the BBC after it named him and broadcast helicopter footage of police searching his flat in August 2014.

    Senior BBC editors are due to give evidence to the High Court trial later.

    Sir Cliff, who was in court for the seventh day of the trial, claims the BBC misused his private information and broke data protection rules when covering the raid on his Berkshire home.

    The BBC coverage was part of its report on a sexual assault inquiry into the singer, after a man alleged to police he had been assaulted by him when he was a child in 1985.

    Sir Cliff, who strongly denied the allegation, was not arrested or charged.

    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.

    The BBC disputes his claims. 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”.

    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.

    Parts of an internal email between two of Mr Johnson’s bosses were read out in court.

    The email, sent after the raid from former BBC UK news editor Gary Smith to then northern bureau editor Declan Wilson, said there were “some issues about exactly how (the) relationship with South Yorkshire Police developed”.

    It reads: “They say he came to them with loads of detail and their only course of action was to co-operate totally with them… suggests naivety and also heavy handed approach by him… he seems to have been nailing them to the wall.

    “But it wouldn’t look pretty if it came out and nearly did yesterday.”

    Image caption Dan Johnson defended his work on the Sir Cliff Richard story

    Mr Johnson denied acting in a heavy-handed way and said the details had been forthcoming from the police.

    Asked in court whether he had South Yorkshire’s Police “nailed to a wall” or “over a barrel”, Mr Johnson denied he had.

    He said South Yorkshire Police’s account that he had pressurised them was “a concoction”.

    On Friday, senior BBC journalists will take to the stand to answer questions from Sir Cliff’s lawyers in front of Mr Justice Mann.

    The allegation against Sir Cliff was made in late 2013 and was passed on to South Yorkshire Police by the Met in July 2014.

    The man alleged that Sir Cliff assaulted him during an event at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane football stadium.

    Sir Cliff refuted the allegation and in June 2016 it was announced he would not face any charges.

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