Max Clifford, the king of Fleet Street’s kiss-and-tell market, has denied claims by the former royal butler Paul Burrell that he breached his confidentiality by passing personal details about him to the News of the World.
The claims by Mr Burrell - once known as Princess Diana's “rock” - are an “affront to common sense”, Mr Clifford said in a statement issued by his solicitor.
Mr Burrell alleges that personal secrets were passed to a senior executive at the News of the World. His lawyer Mark Lewis confirmed that papers will be lodged at the High Court alleging breach of confidentiality by Mr Clifford.
“The claims made by Mr Burrell have no merit. His allegations are opportunistic and are denied,” said Mr Clifford’s statement.
“It is an affront to common sense to suggest that Mr Burrell, who has sold stories to the newspapers, made countless appearances on TV and has even written a book about his dealings with the royal family, now feels able to claim that any information he provided was confidential.
”We will defend these claims in court and will be asking the judge at the earliest opportunity to strike out these claims as having no prospect of success and an abuse of process.“
Mr Clifford, who was arrested last week by Operation Yewtree following allegations of sexual offences – which he denies absolutely – was hired by Mr Burrell a decade ago to limit bad press coverage. But Mr Burrell’s claim is that rather than stopping stories, the publicist passed information on to the now-defunct News of the World.
The claim focuses on the period when the former butler was at the centre of the biggest royal story since the death of Diana, following his arrest and subsequent prosecution for stealing items belonging to the princess. When the case against Mr Burrell collapsed in November 2002 after the personal intervention of the Queen, his insider knowledge on the royal family sparked a vicious bargaining war between national tabloid newspapers for his story.
Mr Burrell’s claim describes a hand-written letter by him to Mr Clifford when the two men first met. The letter was later faxed to the office of a senior NOTW executive.
Paul Burrell worked for the royal family for 21 years, beginning as an 18 year-old footman at Buckingham Palace in 1976. In 1987 he was appointed butler to Prince and Princess of Wales at their country residence in Highgrove. When the couple separated in 1992, he moved with Princess Diana to her residence in Kensington Palace. In August 2001 Mr Burrell was charged with stealing hundreds of items that had belonged to Princess Diana, the thefts said to have taken place after her death in 1997.
At the initial trial in October 2002, the jury was discharged. But in November 2002 during the second trial, Mr Burrell was acquitted of all the charges against him after the Queen is said to have intervened personally by offering new insight into what the royal butler had told her.
However in the run-in to the trial, Mr Burrell was concerned about the way he was being portrayed in the media and contacted Max Clifford.
Mr Burrell wrote Mr Clifford a six-page letter describing his relationship with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, detailing personal gifts he received from them and the Queen’s interest in his family and help after an accident.
Mr Burrell is claiming that the letter was confidential and “inherently private”; Mr Clifford denies all of Mr Burrell’s claims and says they are without merit, adding that any information Mr Burrell provided could not be considered confidential given his prolific dealings with the media.