Clifford guilty of sex assaults

Hampshire Chronicle: Publicist Max Clifford arriving at Southwark Crown Court in London Publicist Max Clifford arriving at Southwark Crown Court in London

PR guru Max Clifford has been found guilty of a string of indecent assaults on teenage girls in the first conviction under sex crime inquiry Operation Yewtree.

The 71-year-old celebrity publicist was convicted of eight indecent assaults and cleared of two at Southwark Crown Court today, with the jury unable to reach a verdict on one other count.

Clifford had repeatedly denied the claims, calling his arrest and prosecution "a nightmare" and branding his accusers "fantasists".

The verdicts were taken in a hushed but packed courtroom, given by the forewoman of the jury on its eighth day of deliberations.

Clifford sat still in the dock as his fate was revealed, breathing deeply as he listened through a hearing loop.

His daughter Louise showed no emotion as the damning verdicts were given. The media expert then walked out of the courtroom with friends and supporters in complete silence, one of them patting him on the shoulder.

He was released on bail until his sentencing on Friday, but Judge Anthony Leonard QC warned him that he may face jail.

He said: "You must realise that the fact I have given you bail is no indication of what the final sentence will be."

The court heard from a string of women who testified about Clifford's behaviour, romping naked in his New Bond Street office.

Prosecutors portrayed him as a well-practised manipulator, who promised to boost his victims' careers and get them to meet celebrities in exchange for sexual favours.

He offered to get them casting appointments, pretending to be Hollywood bigwigs including Steven Spielberg, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Michael Winner on the phone, and bizarrely bragged about having a tiny penis.

Victims included one girl who said Clifford abused her on a number of occasions after he met her family on holiday in Torremolinos in Spain in 1977 when she was 15.

She claimed he would come round to her house, impressing her parents and speaking about how he could make her a star, before taking her out in his car and molesting her. She later wrote him an anonymous letter saying he had made her life "a living hell".

Another alleged victim, who was an extra in the film Octopussy, claimed she was targeted at Clifford's office in 1981 or 1982, aged 19.

Clifford told her that actor Charles Bronson wanted pictures of her in her underwear to decide whether she could be in a film, and after she had spoken on the phone to a man claiming to be Bronson, Clifford pinned her down on a sofa, but she fought him off.

Another was an aspiring model who went to his office in the early 1980s, when she was in her late teens, and was told to pose in her underwear.

She said that as she took off her dress, he told her "What a turn-on", and groped her, and after a phone call with his wife tried to force her to perform oral sex, telling her he would get her a part in a Bond film but she would have to sleep with Cubby Broccoli.

An 18-year-old dancer was also targeted by the PR expert, who took her into a nightclub toilet in the early 1980s and forced her to touch his penis, saying "Who is going to believe you?".

She said Clifford persuaded her to take a phone call from someone who said if she wanted a screen test she would have to tell him if Clifford was circumcised.

Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Michael Orchard from Operation Yewtree said: " I would like to thank the victims for their courage and strength in coming forward to speak to us. I hope they feel and know that they were listened to.

"While this was a high profile trial, officers work tirelessly to being offenders of sexual abuse to justice on a daily basis."

Jenny Hopkins, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London, said: "Today's verdicts provide a long-denied justice to the victims of serious sexual offences. I would like to thank these victims for having had the courage to come forward and give evidence. The victims of sexual abuse, whenever it may have taken place, should know that police and prosecutors will listen.

"It is only right that we now take some time to consider our position on the hung count and we will update the court accordingly."

The jury could not reach a verdict on a count involving a woman who claimed Clifford groped her in his car after meeting her at a Wimpy bar in Morden, south London in 1966.

He was cleared of another two allegations - one woman who said she was pushed up against a wall in his central London offices when he groped her and kissed her in 1975, and another who claimed she was groped in a taxi in 1978.

Clifford spoke only briefly to waiting journalists as he left court, grim-facedly posing for pictures flanked by supporters, and ignoring reporters' questions.

He told journalists: "I have been told by my lawyers not to say anything at all."

As he walked towards his waiting car, Clifford was asked what it felt like to be the story, and replied it was "not the first time".

During the trial, the court heard from a string of women who were not on the indictment, either because their claims did not meet the criminal standard or what they alleged happened abroad, who were called as supporting prosecution witnesses.

Two of them said that Clifford was fixated on having a small penis, telling one woman who went to a film audition at Clifford's office when she was 19: "Look at my penis. Isn't it tiny? What can I do with this?"

Another who was the same age when she went to Clifford's New Bond Street office to meet her friend in 1981 or 1982, said he told her he could get her a part in the American soap Dynasty, and pretended to be director Aaron Spelling on the phone.

The woman said that Clifford took his trousers down and put her hand on his penis, saying: "Is this the smallest one you've ever seen?," as she masturbated him, before he ejaculated over her hand.

The most serious claim came from a woman who said he had forced her to touch his penis when she was just 12 years old during a holiday in Spain.

Others described Clifford boasting about his celebrity connections - another woman, then 18, said he had told her she could meet David Bowie if she gave him oral sex.

The woman claimed that she saw Clifford naked in his office more than once, and that he would brag about his trysts with women at his London HQ.

Another witness said she met Clifford in 1986 when she was 18, and he told her that he wanted her to go for a role in a film called Labyrinth, starring David Bowie.

He made several "sexual" phone calls to her, the court heard, and said she had to "sleep her way to success". She went to a flat with him for some promotional photos, where he showed her his penis, the court heard.

The final supporting witness said she went to Clifford's offices in 1988, aged 16, and claimed Clifford made her masturbate him after telling her of a potential film role.

She said she later went to a series of dinners with him, when he tried to get her to leave with other men.

Lawyer Liz Dux, who represents more than 150 people who have made complaints under Operation Yewtree, said the verdicts proved that the investigation is not a "witch-hunt", while Denise Marshall, chief executive of Eaves, a charity which campaigns against violence against women and girls, said prosecutors are right to pursue historic sex cases.

Peter Watt, director of National Services at the NSPCC, said: "Max Clifford has rightly been unmasked as a ruthless and manipulative sex offender."

One of the victims in the case, who had just turned 15 at the time of the assaults, said she was "relieved" that "justice had been done".

"When I think of him he makes me shudder and he makes me feel ill," she told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

"He was an opportunist. He saw a vulnerable person and took advantage of somebody who was a child and it was awful. It was a nightmare and it had huge implications for me as a young person.

"To see him then go on to become very high profile, to speak openly about other paedophiles and damn them and create a persona of a respectable high profile man, who was lauded by the media, was sickening to say the least."

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