British PR guru Max Clifford thought he was “untouchable” and used his celebrity connections to “bully and manipulate” girls and women into sex acts over a 20-year period, a court heard today.
Opening the prosecution case at his trial in Southwark Crown Court in London, Rosina Cottage QC told jurors that the 70-year-old “knows how to manipulate, lie and get what he wants”.
Clifford is accused of 11 counts of indecent assault relating to seven alleged victims between 1966 and 1984, which he denies.
Ms Cottage told the jury of six women and six men: “This case concerns sexual assaults upon children and young people over a 20-year period. The defendant used his contact with famous people to bully and manipulate these young people into sexual acts with him.
“In his actions, we say he breached the trust of parents he had encouraged to trust him and young women working for him or seeking jobs in the world in which he worked.”
Clifford, wearing a grey blazer with a white shirt and dark trousers, listened to proceedings from the glass-walled dock using a hearing loop.
The prosecutor added: “Many of you, but not all of you, will have heard of the name Max Clifford. He is wealthy, he is well connected.
“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.
“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.
“He is a man who likes to play games with people and you will hear evidence of the games that he played with these girls and young women.
“As the years went by, he got away with his behaviour, he must have thought he was untouchable and no doubt thought no one would complain and, if they did, they would not be believed.”
But Ms Cottage told the court that after the Jimmy Savile scandal hit the headlines in 2012, Clifford’s alleged victims began to come forward.
She said the case, which is due to last around six weeks, will hear not only from women to whom the charges relate, but other women who would give evidence of the PR guru’s “sexually predatory behaviour”.
The prosecutor 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.”
Ms Cottage said Clifford, who listened intently from the dock, denied knowing any of the women, but if he had met them, nothing they described would have happened.
The 70-year-old has had sexual encounters with “many women”, the court heard, but claimed they were all consensual.
Ms Cottage told the jury: “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.”
As the prosecutor outlined the charges to the court, the jury heard that one related to an occasion when Clifford allegedly forced himself on a girl, who was 14 at the time, when they were in a car.
In another allegation, he was said to have indecently assaulted an 18-year-old.
A third charge alleged that Clifford forced a 15-year-old to masturbate him in a car, while several other assaults were also said to have happened in cars on other occasions.
One alleged victim said she was 19 when Clifford forced himself on her in a taxi, touching her breasts, while another – who was also said to have been 19 at the time – said he assaulted her in his office, trying to kiss her and forcing her on to a sofa where he pressed his body on to her.
Another alleged victim, who thought she was between 16 and 18 at the time, also said she was in Clifford’s office when he allegedly lunged at her.
Ms Cottage told the court: “The prosecution say, as the evidence will show, that these offices served as the defendant’s own playground.
“He did as he pleased sexually in the office and took what he wanted when he wanted. This the defendant denies.”
Explaining why the complainants had not reported the alleged assaults at the time, the prosecutor told the court: “The 1960s, the 1970s and the ’80s were very different times from today.
“There was no social media. Secretaries had to bite their lips when the boss patted their bottom and told them to ’run along, love, and make me a cup of tea’.
“A complaint would have earned them ridicule and the sack.
“Nineteen sixty-five was the year the miniskirt was first sold by Mary Quant and the year that Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were arrested and charged, so it’s a long time ago,” she added.
The prosecutor told the court that, although in the 1970s the Equal Pay Act and Sexual Discrimination Act came into force, there was still a strong pressure “not to complain”.
One of the alleged victims claimed she met Clifford while on holiday in Spain in 1977, when he told her parents he could get her modelling work.
When she returned to the UK, it is alleged Clifford called her, pretending to be Terry Miller.
Ms Cottage said: “Either the defendant himself or someone he had asked made this call to reel her in.”
The teenager, who was described to the jury as “a quiet, shy girl”, claimed Clifford made her take her top and bra off during an appointment at his Bond Street office.
It is alleged he impressed her parents with name-dropping, saying he would play squash with Tommy Steele, and abused the girl in his car.
Ms Cottage said Clifford also pretended he had told actress Julie Christie about the girl, and that she had told him to take the alleged victim’s virginity because “then she would be loyal to him forever”.
The jury heard that she was told to perform sex acts on Clifford, and that he had a photograph of her giving him oral sex.
Clifford shook his head as the claims were read out.
Ms Cottage said: “She wanted to kill herself and he never saw her again.
“She felt dirty and stupid and did not tell her family and did not want to go to the police as she did not want her parents to feel guilty about what had happened.”
The court heard that the first time the woman told anyone was in 1998.
She later had counselling, and decided to try to confront Clifford, but thought the best way was through an anonymous letter.
As the allegations over Jimmy Savile began to hit the headlines, the PR guru appeared on ITV’s Daybreak breakfast programme, the court heard, which prompted the alleged victim to go to the police.
Clifford was arrested, and Ms Cottage told the jury that a copy of the letter sent by the woman was found in his bedside table, with another copy found at his “other home”.
The court heard extracts of the letter, which said: “You abused me, you hurt me, upset me and you are a vile, horrible man.”
It went on: “It has taken me 35 years to write this letter so hopefully it will reach you.”
As the letter outlined the alleged abuse the woman claimed to have suffered at the hands of Clifford, it referred to how he had won over her parents, and added: “You took pleasure in degrading me”, asking: “How many others like me are there out there?”
In the description of another allegation, the court heard that, in 1978, another alleged victim, who was 19 at the time, was working in a recruitment agency when Clifford phoned and said he was looking for a personal assistant.
The woman agreed to go to his office to speak to him about the job, but while there he started talking about his clients and their “sexual tastes”, the court heard.
“He named Oliver Reed as one of those clients with unusual sexual tastes,” Ms Cottage said.
At the end of the meeting, the court heard, the woman claimed Clifford hailed a cab and offered her a lift.
She said she was going to Victoria, but instead he directed the driver to London Bridge, saying he needed to pick something up from a flat.
“On the journey he turned towards her and lunged at her, trying to kiss her. She tried to push him away and said ’No’.”
Ms Cottage said: “She had to fight him off and he called her a prick tease.
“He said that she knew what he wanted and she either wanted the job or she didn’t.”
When she said she did not want the job, the woman claimed Clifford told her to “f*** off”.
She did not tell her boyfriend what had happened and did not go to the police because she did not think they would take it seriously, the court heard.
Ms Cottage said Clifford said he had never had a flat in London Bridge and had never represented Oliver Reed so would not have spoken about him in that way.
She told jurors that yesterday, nearly a year after he was charged, Clifford had admitted through his lawyers that he “may have met” the woman.
Another woman, who is not part of any of the alleged offences but is being called as a witness, claimed she went to a film audition at Clifford’s office when she was 19.
The court heard that he exposed himself and told her: “Look at my penis. Isn’t it tiny? What can I do with this?”
It is claimed that Clifford did this again at a second meeting, and called her on the phone, putting on an Italian accent and claiming to be the film director or producer.
Ms Cottage said of the second phone call: “He hardly spoke about the film part and just kept on about his penis size and exposing his penis to her. She thought that the man using the Italian accent could have been the defendant. It is the prosecution case that it was.”
The woman decided to “chalk it up to experience”, the jury was told, but did tell two partners, her sister and a work colleague.
The eighth count on the indictment concerns an alleged victim who was a young gymnast when it is claimed she was targeted at Clifford's office.
The court heard that Clifford told her that actor Charles Bronson wanted pictures of her in her underwear to decide whether she could be in a film, and photographs were then taken.
She spoke on the phone to a man claiming to be Bronson and, after the call, it is alleged Clifford pinned her down on a sofa.
Ms Cottage told the jury: “She was terrified and thought she was going to be raped.
“She was physically strong, she was able to kick him in the groin. She gathered her clothes and left, distressed.”
Jurors were told that another woman – whose claims also fall short of a criminal offence, but support other allegations – said she was 19 when she went to Clifford’s office to meet a receptionist friend of hers in 1981 or 1982.
He invited her into his office and told her that Fallon, a character in US TV programme Dynasty, had fallen from a horse and broken her arm, and he thought she could replace her.
Ms Cottage told the court the woman said she told him she was not an actress, but he answered: “You’re in the driving seat when it comes to your career.”
The court heard Clifford allegedly claimed he was a friend of Dynasty director Aaron Spelling and told the woman he would get Spelling to call her.
Ms Cottage said the woman then received a call from a man with a “very effeminate voice” claiming he was Aaron Spelling, and saying Clifford “fancied him” but was concerned about the fact that he had a small penis and so would not meet him.
When the women apparently asked: “What do you expect me to do about that?,” the man was said to have replied: “You have to remember ... you’re in the driving seat with this.”
Ms Cottage told the court: “Her immediate reaction was that the man that she was speaking to was the defendant pretending to be Aaron Spelling.”
When she visited Clifford’s office again, the woman claimed she was invited into his room where they discussed the telephone call and the reference to the size of his penis.
The PR consultant again shook his head in the dock as Ms Cottage outlined the woman’s claims that he then 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 court heard the woman told a flatmate and her now ex-husband, and later told a friend who was a serving police officer.
Jurors were told that another woman claimed Clifford and another man approached her in a cafe in 1982 when she was 18, offering her a job as a secretary, which she accepted.
Ms Cottage said: “The atmosphere and culture in the defendant’s office was sexually orientated. The defendant would constantly play games with lots of female models. She saw and heard him making calls to them pretending to be Michael Winner.
“He would put on a different voice and invite them into the office for a meeting telling them not to wear any knickers.”
She claimed he also boasted that he would “screw” girls in his office, which she saw once when someone opened the door.
On another occasion, when he had been in his office with a girl, he came out towards her completely naked, asking her to make a call.
The court heard it was alleged that on more than one occasion Clifford locked the outer office door when the woman was there and approached her with his trousers and pants down, with an erect penis, and told her he wanted to teach her how to masturbate someone, recalling that he was proud of being circumcised.
The woman would leave the office in tears, the court heard. “ In her naivete she thought that was how things were,” Ms Cottage said, adding that Clifford told her if she gave him a “blow job” she could meet David Bowie.