As Max Clifford has found: live by the detail, die by the detail

While the publicist waited for the jury's verdict, he was larking around and planning his acquittal party



Don't you just love being in control? The cheesy advertising slogan, fittingly from more than 20 years ago, sums up Max Clifford's career. Very often he was in control, and he knew it. He was brilliant at manipulation, and his nose for knowing when a lie would go undetected gave him a ringside seat at all the big kiss 'n' tell stories. One of his scalps, David Mellor, has been celebrating Clifford's eight-year sentence for indecent assault. Clifford's claim that Mellor had worn a Chelsea shirt during the more intimate moments of his extramarital affair (at a time, supposedly, of Back to Basics public morality) was an invention.

Everyone remembered the Chelsea shirt. Paul Connew, deputy editor at the News of the World, didn't believe it and turned it down. Kelvin MacKenzie's Sun chose to, and gave the nation a good laugh. It just wasn't true but, hey, that's showbiz, apparently. Nor was it true that the Antonia de Sancha and Pamella Bordes stories had been initiated by them coming to him. Nor that Clifford had represented Marlon Brando. His associates used to bet on how long it would be after a celebrity died that Clifford would appear on national television claiming to have represented them.

Is this kicking a man when he's down? Certainly, but our libel laws made such things difficult to assert until last week, and most journalists I have asked hadn't even heard the rumours. But I do know that Clifford believed he would get away with it. He, like Jimmy Savile, had good reason to – he always had in the past. Those who knew he was guilty were taking faint comfort that at least his discomfort was being strung out by the jury's extended deliberation, yet it wasn't real discomfort. He was larking around, aping a Sky presenter and planning his acquittal party.

The Clifford story is a shocker. If you think he's had a bit of bad luck, that in different times there was nothing wrong with a bit of a grooming grope (so what if they were borderline age of consent?), just read the judge's sentencing remarks on the shameless manipulation, his "no one will believe you" remark, as he pulled his trousers up, the cold-blooded instrumentalism. The press, of course, loved him and, even for papers such as this one, he was the bit of harmless rough who would provide an obliging quote about some celebrity nonsense.

For the past few months, Clifford had been telling people about the holes in the prosecution story. One claim, in particular, that he denied was the episode in the Jacuzzi with a 12-year-old girl, for which he wasn't charged, because it happened, or didn't, outside the UK's jurisdiction. Key details in his accuser's version didn't stack up, he said, and his disabled daughter, herself an element in the story, said it couldn't have been true. The weight of evidence meant this didn't matter, but maybe that's the telling detail we'll all remember. Ring any bells, Max?

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