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PR boss goes on trial for sex abuse

London, March 6: Max Clifford, arguably the most powerful public relations man for the past 20 years in the world of celebrity journalism, went on trial today at Southwark Crown Court in London, charged with sexually abusing vulnerable young women who either worked for him or were promised jobs by him.

Among his most famous clients was Shilpa Shetty after she had won Celebrity Big Brother in January 2007 but there is no suggestion that he behaved improperly with the Bollywood actress, then aged 31.

Among Asian women, he also represented Faria Alam, the Bangladeshi secretary at the Football Association, who was able to sell her story to the tabloid press in 2004 for several hundred thousand pounds, thanks to Clifford — as Shilpa was also able to three years later.

Another Asian woman, whose photograph hangs in his office, is Pamella Bordes, who won the “Miss India” beauty title as Pamela Singh and who hit the headlines in 1989 after her affairs with several high profile men came to light. Clifford said that Pamella was not his client but he had tipped off the press about her activities in order to distract attention away from someone who was.

How powerful Clifford was emerged last week during the separate trial on phone hacking charges of Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive and once editor of the now defunct News of the World.

Brooks revealed that Clifford was able to secure a deal worth 1 million for serialising a book that footballer David Beckham had “written”. Another 1 million was paid more recently to Clifford to buy his goodwill and silence and stop him from suing News International for hacking his phone. And over the years, the paper had paid Clifford millions for tip-offs and inside information on celebrities.

The picture painted in court today by the prosecution was a manipulative sexual predator.

In the aftermath of the revelations in 2012 about the late BBC disc jockey Sir Jimmy Savile, who is said to have abused over 400 girls and some boys in his time, numerous celebrities, household names now aged 60-80, have been rounded up. Several have been taken to court for offences allegedly committed years ago. But the trial of Clifford is the most sensational.

Clifford, who is 70, dressed in a grey blazer with a white shirt and dark trousers, listened to proceedings today from the glass-walled dock using a hearing loop. He has denied all the charges and there are several of them.

He is accused of 11 counts of indecent assault relating to seven alleged victims between 1966 and 1984. For example, there is one offence of indecent assault relating to a girl, aged 14, in 1966; another relating to a woman, aged 18, in 1974/75; three offences relating to a girl, aged 15, in 1977/78; and so it goes on.

The prosecution Queen’s Counsel, Rosina Cottage told the jury of six men and six women: “Many of you, but not all of you, will have heard of the name Max Clifford. He is wealthy, he is well connected.”

She added: “He is the maker of the kiss-and-tell celebrity and the breaker of reputations. He is the man called upon by television to speak about celebrity and media manipulation.”

She went on: “He has been at the top of the media game for many years. He knows the strings to pull. He knows how to manipulate, lie and get what he wants.”

She said the PR guru thought he was “untouchable” and that he used his celebrity connections to “bully and manipulate” girls and women into sex acts over a 20-year period.

The case is expected to last six weeks during which his alleged victims would give evidence of Clifford’s “sexually predatory behaviour”.

Cottage said: “These women were vulnerable to the attentions of a man experienced in taking sexual advantage of their naivety and their willingness to please. His office was his own sexual fiefdom. He toyed with their inexperience and treated them with contempt. And we say he continues to do so by denying their allegations.”

Clifford would admit to sexual encounters with “many women” but would claim they were all consensual.

“The prosecution say that the defendant touched all of these women in a way that was indecent — in circumstances that you, right-minded people, would consider indecent, and that the defendant intended to do so. Whether they were under 16 and they could not consent, or they were over 16 and they did not consent.”

Explaining why the girls had not reported the alleged assaults at the time, Cottage told the court: “The 1960s, the 1970s and the ’80s were very different times from today. There was no social media. A complaint would have earned them ridicule and the sack.”

Clifford shook his head as the claims were read out. The trial continues.