A former South Yorkshire detective today told the High Court about a meeting in which he struck a deal with a BBC reporter over coverage of a police raid on singer Sir Cliff Richard’s home.
Ex-Det Supt Matthew Fenwick said it was clear the BBC’s Dan Johnson knew police were investigating an allegation against Sir Cliff because he described the singer as a “celebrity paedo” during their meeting in July 2014.
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The reporter “clearly stated” he had got his information from Operation Yewtree, the police probe into sex abuse allegations, but later denied his source was linked to the investigation, Fenwick said.
In a witness statement, Fenwick said: “When I left the meeting I was under no illusion that his information had come from a police source.
“He explained to us that he was ready to publish an exclusive story about the investigation and wanted a comment from us.
“I accepted that he was ready to publish a story because of where he said he had got his information from.”
Fenwick said he did not want Johnson to run a story about Sir Cliff at the time of the meeting because it could “compromise the investigation”.
He told the court: “He said he could and he would and we came to an arrangement that he wouldn’t publish it then but that we would notify him when we were ready to take further action.”
Fenwick said he and the force’s head of corporate communications, Carrie Goodwin, told Johnson they were considering a search of Sir Cliff’s home in August, but they declined his request to attend the raid with police.
“It did not seem as though it would be possible to stop Dan Johnson from reporting the story altogether but I was very concerned that if he reported it now, as he said he was ready to, then the investigation would be prejudiced,” Fenwick said.
“In particular, publishing a story could cause problems with a search warrant which we were not ready to do yet.
“At the back of my mind I was thinking that it would not only compromise the investigation but could also compromise Sir Cliff Richard by exposing him to allegations, potentially giving him the opportunity to dispose of evidence.
“If reported, the story was likely to be very high profile and the attention could have a negative impact on the victim.”
Fenwick said he also declined Johnson’s request to speak to the man who had made the allegation against Sir Cliff, and refused to take part in a pre-recorded interview ahead of the raid.
Fenwick said he was “angry” after an article on the BBC website suggested the corporation’s presence at the raid was a deliberate attempt by the force to “maximise publicity for the investigation”.
“I was angry about this because it was untrue and I made a number of telephone calls to Dan Johnson because I wanted him to ensure that it would be removed,” he told Mr Justice Mann at the High Court.
He added that Johnson agreed the comments made in the article were “misleading” and said he would try and get the item removed from the website.
Goodwin told the court this afternoon that she believed Johnson had all the information he needed to run a story on Sir Cliff being under investigation.
She did not think the BBC needed confirmation from the force before running such a story.
“From how Dan presented it he had such confidence about being ready to go… the information that he had was very detailed so I did believe him,” she told the court.
Later, she said that she had attempted to “slow down” the story by offering Johnson an interview with Fenwick.
“I wanted him to believe that he didn’t need to do anything for the next two weeks because there was something coming,” she said.
Sir Cliff is suing the BBC for damages over its reporting of the police raid on his penthouse apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014 .
The 77-year-old singer claims footage of the raid, carried out following an allegation of sexual assault, was a “very serious invasion” of his privacy, and is suing the BBC for “substantial damages”.
The BBC is fighting the claim.
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.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Summers