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Top British PR guru Max Clifford arrested by police in sex abuse case

AFP-JIJI

Top British publicist Max Clifford on Thursday said allegations of sexual abuse against him were “totally untrue” following his arrest by police.

Best known for helping scandal-hit celebrities, he was detained as part of a wider investigation into sex offenses, sparked by allegations that late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was a serial pedophile.

Police later announced they had bailed Clifford until a date later this month, and he gave a brief statement on the steps of Belgravia police station in central London to refute the claims, which he said dated from 1977.

“These allegations are damaging and totally untrue,” he said. “Anyone who really knew me all those years ago and those who have known me since will have no doubt that I would never act in the way I have today been accused.”

Clifford, 69, is one of the most influential publicity agents in Britain. He has represented everyone from O.J. Simpson to former Harrods store owner Mohamed al-Fayed, working closely with the press to manage, break and stop stories about his clients.

He left school with no qualifications but after a brief stint as a press officer for EMI records in the 1960s, built up his company, Max Clifford Associates, to become one of the most powerful forces in British media.

Clifford becomes the latest in a string of celebrities to be arrested under a Scotland Yard investigation code-named Operation Yewtree, after former glam rocker and convicted pedophile Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr and radio presenter Dave Lee Travis.

All three have protested their innocence, and Travis made clear that the allegations against him, unlike those against Savile, did not concern children.

Police launched Operation Yewtree in October after a television documentary alleged that Savile, who died in 2011, was a predatory pedophile. Savile is now believed to have preyed on as many as 450 victims.

Clifford has a client list that is the envy of publicists around the world and has the power to make or break stars — and the journalists who cover them.

He was behind kiss-and-tell stories by Rebecca Loos, who claimed to have had an affair with soccer star David Beckham, although he has always denied it, and by Daisy Wright, Jude Law’s nanny, who had an affair with the actor.

The story behind one of the most famous headlines ever to appear in Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun — “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” — was typical of how Clifford promoted his stars. He told an inquiry into press ethics this year that the tabloid had proposed the story and, despite seeing it was trash, he said they could go ahead because it would help publicize a tour by the comedian.

The publicist gave evidence in part because he was a victim of phone hacking by the News of the World, the weekly tabloid shut down by Murdoch last year.

Clifford told the inquiry that he reached a settlement with Murdoch’s News International worth £660,000 ($1 million) plus a further £300,000 in legal costs, and in return agreed to continue working with the News of the World on stories.