Top U.K. Publicist Arrested in Savile Probe

Max Clifford, PR guru to the stars, is the fifth person arrested for questioning in Operation Yewtree, Scotland Yard’s investigation into alleged sexual abuses opened in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

12.06.12 7:39 PM ET

Britain’s top PR guru and master of the kiss-and-tell story, Max Clifford, was arrested Thursday morning in an early-morning raid by police officers working for Operation Yewtree, the major Scotland Yard investigation set up in the wake of allegations that Sir Jimmy Savile, the late BBC presenter and DJ, abused minors on BBC premises and in hospitals and care homes.

The major police investigation, which is reported to have already cost more than $3 million and received hundreds of allegations after the Savile scandal broke, is split into three parts: “Savile,” “Savile and others,” and “others.” A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police told The Daily Beast that Clifford is being questioned under the “others” category.

After the dawn raid on the publicist’s home in Surrey, Clifford was taken for questioning to a central London police station, while detectives were reported to be searching his house, removing bags and putting them in white vans. As of press time, Clifford has not been charged with any crimes. Clifford’s lawyer, Charlotte Harris, released a statement that her client was helping the police “as best he can with their inquiries.”

Clifford, 69, has been a towering figure in the public-relations and tabloid-news world for over three decades, starting as the U.K. representative for Frank Sinatra, Joe Cocker, Judy Garland, and Muhammad Ali and now representing such celebrities as magician David Copperfield and The X Factor supremo Simon Cowell. Though the website for Max Clifford Associates was down soon after his arrest, a cached image of his site shows some of the recent tabloid headlines he claims credit for.

So famed is he for his skill at handling crises and scandal, Clifford is the prime fixer for public figures in difficulty, someone you’d call even before you ring up a lawyer. He’s also a major broker of kiss-and-tell stories, having worked with Rebecca Loos after she had an affair with British soccer star David Beckham, and was particularly active in breaking stories about Tory ministers in the early ’90s. In evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics earlier this year, Clifford gave some insight into his tactics, explaining how he helped fabricate one of the most famous headlines in British tabloid history about one of his clients: The Sun’s “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster.” Though the headline was untrue, Clifford calculated that it would help the comedian’s profile.

However the cliché that “no publicity is bad publicity” was severely tested when Starr was arrested and then released on bail by Operation Yewtree early in November. Days before, Clifford claimed he had been phoned by dozens of stars “frightened to death” they might get caught up in the widening Savile investigation. “We are talking about a lot of people that were huge names in the ’60s and ’70s,” Clifford told The Associated Press, “and a lot of them barely remember what they did last week.” If true, those celebrities are unlikely to be reassured by Clifford’s arrest.

Clifford is the fifth person arrested so far in Operation Yewtree. In addition to him and Starr, police have arrested, and then released on bail, glam-rock star Gary Glitter, former BBC radio DJ Dave Lee Travis, and Wilfred De’Ath, a retired BBC producer. Last Thursday an unidentified 80-year-old from Berkshire was interviewed under caution. In a completely separate investigation by Lancashire police, Stuart Hall, a well-known radio sports commentator and BBC TV presenter, was charged with three counts of indecent assault in alleged incidents involving three girls ages 9 to 16 between 1974 and 1984.

A police spokesman told The Daily Beast that Operation Yewtree has now identified more than 500 potential victims of sex offenses, but has only taken recorded statements from fewer than half of them. He confirmed that the investigation was one of the major police operations at the moment and that it still had “a long way to go.”