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Tuesday, April 29, 2014 

The king of sleaze, abandoned by the sleaze merchants he worked with.

And so the fleas are parting company with the dying rat. If there's one thing to be said for the various celebrities deserting Max Clifford now he's been found guilty of sexually assaulting four young women, one of whom was only 15 at the time, at least they're being open and honest about having paired up with the man now being described as the king of sleaze by the very sleaze merchants he worked hand in glove with.

Clifford's downfall signifies an end of an era for British journalism just as much as the closure of the News of the World did. Along with Murdoch himself and Kelvin MacKenzie, Clifford must rank among the most significant figures of the post-Sun tabloid world, and also as one of those chiefly responsible for the race to the gutter.  Where the sex scandal had once been mainly confined to the Sundays, Murdoch's relaunched Sun served it up on a daily basis. By the time MacKenzie took over as editor in 1981, Clifford was starting to build his empire, the famous headline "FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER" the end result of his handiwork.  As was also typical of many Clifford-brokered stories, it wasn't true. Nor was he anything but brazen when caught out, as Roy Greenslade relates of another story sold to the Sun during the period. Clifford had presented a man who claimed to have slept with a soap actress, only for her lawyers to quickly discover the supposed lover was in fact gay. "Some days he's gay, some days he's straight. This happened on straight day," was Clifford's response.

When it's someone's job to tell lies, to deceive people, whether they be tabloid journalists and in turn the general public, and when they are also so open about doing so, it raises the obvious question of whether you can believe anything they say.  Did he really hold sex parties for the best part of two decades, as he claimed in his autobiography, where household names including Diana Dors were among those attending?  During the trial he quite happily accepted being described as the "ringmaster" at the shindigs, a role he "liked to have" in life in general.  In an interview at the time the book was released he told Carole Cadwalladr to him it was "another sport" and also that he had been "greedy".  Perhaps as he has so often Clifford was simply embellishing a fact to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from fiction: Dors told the News of the World of sex parties hosted by her first husband Dennis Hamilton, parties that would have taken place when Clifford had just entered his teenage years.  Whether later claims in her own autobiography of further such soirees are any more reliable is open to question.

If we do take Clifford's word for it, then around the point he got out of the car keys in the bowl game he reached the peak of his powers.  He represented Mohamed Fayed, sold the story of Antonia De Sancha's affair with David Mellor, and although almost forgotten now in comparison to Mellor shagging in his Chelsea strip (as invented as John Major tucking his shirt into his underpants was), entered into a "partnership" with Mandy Allwood, the woman pregnant with octuplets.  Clifford negotiated a deal with the News of the World where the amount paid for the exclusive rights to the story would increase for each baby born.  The contract was written in spite of advice from doctors to abort some of the foetuses to give the others a better chance of survival.  Allwood went into labour after 19 weeks; three days later all eight babies were dead.  She would later claim Clifford had told the press about the location of the funeral despite her asking for it to be kept private.

With the demise of the Screws and the switch of so much celebrity gossip to the instant world of social media, Clifford's grip on the biggest clients also seemed to have slipped.  He kept Simon Cowell, but most others seem to have went elsewhere.  Not that this affected what Piers Morgan once described as Clifford's "get out of all jail card".  Cadwalladr in her piece wrote of the double life Clifford had been leading at the time, in a relationship with his PA, who was married, just not to him.  The only hint of this in the press came in the Mail, in a diary item.  No journalist or paper wanted to take the risk of offending such a major source by going any bigger on his hypocrisy.  Grace Dent in the Independent suggests "rumours" had circulated about Clifford's "approach" to young women, but if there had been any wider investigation than just that into his past then it most certainly didn't get into print.

Similarly to how the wider media failed to expose Jimmy Savile while he was alive despite it seeming as though almost everyone in Fleet Street and at the BBC had heard the whispers, it was left to the women themselves to find the strength to go to the police and give their accounts of how a man who subsequently wielded such power abused them.  These same papers are the ones demanding to know why the then Liberal party didn't do more to investigate the accusations made against Cyril Smith, despite the fact that at the time they themselves didn't follow up the allegations in the Rochdale Alternative Paper, repeated by Private Eye.  Such cover-ups are only possible when the self-styled defenders of freedom also fail to investigate without favour.  Anyone expecting some humility, even introspection from the papers without whom Clifford couldn't have operated were always likely to be disappointed, but as so often, their silence on the role they played is deafening.

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