LONDON - Publicity mastermind Max Clifford, the king of British tabloid kiss-and-tell exposés, was sentenced to eight years in jail on Friday for multiple sex assaults against impressionable teenagers.
The 71-year-old, who engineered countless celebrity stories and kept even more out of the headlines, thought he was ‘untouchable,’ judge Anthony Leonard said. ‘You targeted vulnerable women who you thought would comply because they were desperate to succeed,’ he said.
The public relations guru was found guilty on Monday of eight indecent assaults on four young women aged 15 to 19 between 1977 and 1984. Clifford, who denied the charges, remained defiant as he entered London's Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, stonewalling invitations to apologise to his victims. ‘I stand by everything I've said in the past,’ the silver-haired PR expert told reporters.
Clifford admitted it was ‘not the best day of my life’, adding: ‘I just have to make the best of it.’ Judge Leonard blasted him for his ‘contemptuous attitude’ in which he showed ‘no remorse’. Clifford is the first high-profile figure to be convicted under Operation Yewtree, the police investigation set up to investigate allegations of past sex offences following the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Clifford's victims came forward following revelations in 2012 that the late BBC presenter Savile - a household name in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s - had been a serial sex offender across the decades.
The judge told Clifford he must serve up to half his sentence in jail. ‘These offences may have taken place a long time ago when inappropriate and trivial sexual misbehaviour was more likely to be tolerated or overlooked,’ Leonard said.
However, ‘your offending is not trivial but of a very serious nature’. Under laws brought in since the offences took place, the worst of Clifford's sex crimes would have been charged as rape, the judge said.
‘The reason why they were not brought to light sooner is because of your own dominant character and your position in the world of entertainment which meant that your victims thought you were untouchable - something I judge that you, too, believed and traded upon,’ he said.
He got the youngest victim to perform sex acts on him, on the premise that he could help her get promotional work. He took photos of one young woman in her underwear, telling her it was required for a part in a Charles Bronson film, and then lunged at her. A dancer was told he could get her a part in a James Bond film. He took her into a lavatory and got her to touch him. Another teenager seeking modelling work was forced to perform a sex act on him while he took a phonecall from his wife.
Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said she hoped the case would encourage other sex offence victims to come forward, regardless of who carried out the abuse and when. Clifford was cleared of two other charges of indecent assault. The jury could not reach a verdict on an 11th count. Clifford's role was a combination of media promotion and protection for his star clients, while he became the go-to man for anyone with a celebrity scandal to sell to the press.
He helped promote The Beatles for record label EMI before starting his own firm aged 27. He looked after big US stars in Britain, including singer Frank Sinatra, boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Marlon Brando. Egyptian tycoon Mohamed Al-Fayed was also on his books. Music mogul Simon Cowell, who paid Clifford £250,000 ($420,000, 300,000 euros) a year for his services, has reportedly severed his ties.
The stories he brokered included allegations about the sex lives of football icon David Beckham; deputy prime minister John Prescott; actor Jude Law, and football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
David Mellor, a 1990s cabinet minister, was forced to resign after Clifford exposed his affair with actress Antonia de Sancha. Clifford's made-up claim that Mellor made love wearing a Chelsea football strip made a memorable front page for The Sun tabloid. Mellor told BBC television: ‘He was the arbiter of sleaze who turned out to be more sleazy than anyone he turned over.’