Top British publicist charged with 11 sex assaults

LONDON (Reuters) - Celebrity publicist Max Clifford on Friday became the first high profile figure to be charged in a wide-ranging investigation into a sex scandal that has grabbed front page headlines in Britain in recent months.

Publicist Max Clifford arrives at his home in Surrey after his arrest at Belgravia police station in central London December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Clifford, 70, was charged with 11 counts of indecent assault, prosecutors said, including on two underage girls, after being arrested in December as part of an investigation into sex crime allegations against the late Jimmy Savile.

Savile, one of Britain’s biggest TV stars in the 1970s and 1980s, was after his death last year found to have carried out sex crimes on an unprecedented scale over six decades, triggering an inquiry that has snared several other celebrities.

Clifford, whose clients have included “The X Factor” reality TV creator Simon Cowell, is best known in Britain for selling “kiss and tell” stories about the rich and famous to scandal-hungry tabloid newspapers.

“Having completed our review, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest for Mr Clifford to be charged with 11 offences of indecent assault relating to seven complainants,” the Crown Prosecution Service’s Alison Saunders said in a statement.

Clifford, whose alleged crimes were committed between 1966 and 1985, is expected to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on May 28. One of the assaults relates to a girl aged 14, and another to girl aged 15.

Lawyers for Clifford were not immediately available to comment, but a statement from the publicist carried by Sky News said he was living a “24/7 nightmare”.

“I have never indecently assaulted anyone in my life and this will become clear during the course of the proceedings,” he said.

Other celebrities arrested in the Savile probe, codenamed Operation Yewtree, include glam-rock singer Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr and children’s’ TV show presenter Rolf Harris, who all deny any wrongdoing.

Earlier this month David Smith, a former BBC driver, became the first to have charges brought against him, including two counts of indecent assault, two of gross indecency, and one of buggery, all in 1984, prosecutors said.

Police say Savile committed 214 offences, including 34 rapes or serious sexual assaults, beginning as long ago as 1955.

The scandal forced former BBC Director-General George Entwistle to stand down after only 54 days in the top job.

Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Mike Collett-White