LONDON: Britain’s best-known publicist Max Clifford, who was arrested on Thursday by police investigating claims of historical sex abuse, has dismissed as “damaging and totally untrue” all allegations against him.
Clifford, 69, the fabled master spinner and friend to the stars, was arrested at his Surrey home on suspicion of “sexual offences” and questioned at a central London police station, before being released on bail Thursday night.
He became the fifth man to be arrested by officers of Operation Yewtree following the avalanche of allegations since the outing of Jimmy Savile as a predatory paedophile in a television documentary in October.
Clifford, whose arrest is understood not to be directly linked with Savile, said Thursday night that the allegation dated back to 1977. Standing outside the police station, he said in a short statement that the claims were “damaging and totally untrue,” adding they were “very distressing for myself, my wife, my family and loved ones.”
Scotland Yard declined to give further details about the nature of the allegations, but Clifford had already been centre stage in the saga. He said last month that he had been contacted by more than a dozen major stars and managers who were concerned about the growing scandal and had asked him to “keep them in the picture.”
“It is a situation which could easily turn into a witch-hunt, a lot of big stars are frightened,” he said during a round of media interviews. “Where is it going to end?” he asked.
Asked whether he was “compromising himself” by acting for people who may have been involved in unwitting underage sex, he said: “It’s very simple — I am very close friends with a lot of these people and have been for 40 to 50 years. They know I’m in the middle of the media world, so I’m the first person that they turn to, not just on this subject but lots of subjects.”
The arrest marked a stunning development for a man who has been the architect of tabloid “kiss-and-tells” involving major public figures for decades. He was catapulted into the big time after the Sun ran the headline “Freddie Starr ate My Hamster” with his permission — even though the comedian has always denied the allegation. He later told the Leveson Inquiry that he had recognised it would be great publicity for Starr as he embarked on a new tour.
He has since had his fingerprints on numerous classic tabloid front-page stories involving David Beckham, David Mellor, Jude Law and Sven-Goran Eriksson. He has also been caught on camera talking about how he successfully suppressed scandals.
In an old video that only came to light last month, Clifford spoke of how he would create a “false image” for clients as “long as they’re not interfering with little kids.”
Starr was one of the other five men arrested during the course of the investigation. Gary Glitter, the former radio disc jockey Dave Lee Travis and former television producer Wilfred De’Ath have all been arrested and subsequently bailed.
A man in his 80s from Berkshire has also been questioned as part of the police inquiry that now involves 30 officers and has cost £2 million. They have all denied any wrongdoing.
With the master publicist unavailable for comment until late last night, the task of confirming Clifford’s arrest today fell to his solicitor, Charlotte Harris, a media specialist at law firm Mishcon de Reya. She represented Clifford in 2010 when News International settled his phone-hacking case for £991,000. The website of Max Clifford Associates, the company he set up in the 1970s after working as a reporter, had no mention of the arrest. However, a fundraising dinner at which he was due to speak on Monday has been cancelled.
Also arrested and questioned in the Savile case last month was another major British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) figure of the last generation, Dave Lee Travis.
Travis, 67, was the fourth person arrested during Operation Yewtree as police revealed that the total number of victims had increased to 450 during the six-week inquiry. Officers are still in the process of contacting all of the victims.