A senior BBC journalist has told a High Court judge that the corporation had a public interest responsibility to cover a police search of Sir Cliff Richard's home.

Fran Unsworth, the BBC's director of news and current affairs, authorised the coverage of the South Yorkshire Police search of the singer's apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire in August 2014.

Ms Unsworth told Mr Justice Mann that, while she knew the story would cause "distress" to Sir Cliff, it was "in the public interest" and said: "That remains my view."

She said: "I took the view, and still do, that we had a responsibility in the public interest to report this whilst still being sensitive to the position of Sir Cliff.

"The BBC has publicly said it is very sorry that Sir Cliff suffered distress and that remains the position," she added.

Asked whether helicopter footage showing the inside of Sir Cliff's home was intrusive and akin to "spying", Ms Unsworth said that Sir Cliff was not in the property and that "shots were of policemen and quite blurred".

"I reject the term spying because we weren't spying," she said. "Spying is something done surreptitiously and there is nothing surreptitious about a helicopter."

She said when she saw the footage after it had been broadcast it did not strike her as "particularly intrusive".

In a witness statement, the former chief constable of South Yorkshire Police said he had found BBC footage of the raid "intrusive".

David Crompton, who was head of the force at the time, said: "I had thought that there may be some limited footage of my officers going into Sir Cliff Richard's property.

"What I saw was much more extensive and I thought it was intrusive."

Sir Cliff, 77, has said the coverage "smeared" his name and is suing the corporation, demanding damages at the "top end" of the scale.

:: Sir Cliff Richard vs BBC – the day in court

The BBC disputes his claim that its coverage was a "very serious invasion" of his privacy.

Ms Unsworth said: "The BBC reported the police search of Sir Cliff's apartment and its investigation in a factually accurate manner and reported the early status of the investigation."

South Yorkshire Police were investigating an historic sexual assault allegation against Sir Cliff, who was not arrested or charged as the result of the inquiry.

"The BBC's reporting prominently featured Sir Cliff's full denial of the allegations as soon as the denial had been issued," Ms Unsworth said.

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She admitted she was influenced by other similar cases, such as those of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, and argued that, if the BBC had not reported on South Yorkshire Police's action, it might have been accused of ignoring a public interest story because the subject was a famous celebrity.

Ms Unsworth said it was the first time the BBC had named an individual before arrest in connection with a minor, but added that "we understood he would have been arrested if at the property".

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