Thursday 18 December 2014

Clifford's undoing tops a good week for a free press

While Hugh Grant may be Hacked Off, the new press charter is a sensible one

Published 04/05/2014 | 02:30

Publicist Max Clifford, arriving at Southwark Crown Court where he is to be sentenced for a string of indecent assaults. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 2, 2014. The 71-year-old was found guilty on Tuesday by a jury at Southwark Crown Court, becoming the first person to be convicted under sex crime investigation Operation Yewtree. See PA story COURTS Clifford. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Publicist Max Clifford, arriving at Southwark Crown Court where he is to be sentenced for a string of indecent assaults

It's been a good week for the British press. As a result of their war on the last culture secretary, Maria Miller, and her disastrously grudging apology for overdoing it on the expenses front, she lost her job. She had brought in the Royal Charter on press regulation that no newspaper will sign up to: her successor, Sajid Javid, has turned out to be an enthusiastic supporter of a free press.

Giving a green light to the recently-created IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) which most of the industry is happy with, he said: "It is now a decision for the press what they want to do next. I don't see any further role for government in this."

To the delight of those sections of the press who believe politicians are on a vengeful mission to destroy, he added that "our press is the best in the world. It is fearless without favour".

In parliament he made his position even clearer. Despite bad apples, "we must be careful to recognise that the press and their freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy".

Hacked Off, the group fronted by Hugh Grant in its early days, which recently persuaded large numbers of literary and other kinds of luvvies to publicly support the charter, is fuming. "In his desire to ingratiate himself with the press barons, which is an old habit of politicians, the culture secretary should pause to remember the victims of press abuse, the backing that scores of writers and creative leaders gave the royal charter just last month, the five active police investigations, the hundreds of potential civil claims and the current criminal trial of the prime minister's former press secretary."

I think Javid is well aware of all that and may have come to the conclusion that there has been overkill. Some newspapers behaved very badly, but that was partly because the police failed to enforce laws against phone-hacking. So far 63 journalists have been arrested in dawn raids, 33 have been charged and many more are living in fear.

Similarly, having ignored complaints about the hideous Jimmy Savile and thus let him get away with abusing hundreds of children, the authorities overreacted by going to town on elderly rather naff celebrities whom up to now juries have refused to convict. However, they had reason to rejoice last week when the evil genius that is the celebrity publicist Max Clifford was found guilty of eight charges of sexual abuse and given an eight-year jail sentence.

I always loathed Clifford, who seemed to take pleasure from ruining people. Having skimmed Max Clifford: Read All About It, a book he wrote with a journalist, I came away feeling rather unwell. He is the epitome of sleaze, proud of a life making money from depravity – first by showing porn movies, organising sex parties and then by peddling kiss-and-tell stories enhanced by lies – and from providing a "protection" service to clients with plenty of money who want their misdeed hidden. As his co-author put it, he was in "a unique position; selling salacious stories to the newspaper with one hand and protecting his clients from journalists' and friends' prying eyes with the other, while making money from both".

Having what the blurb called "a mischievous sense of humour" and enjoying practical jokes, he boasted of winning a bet by enticing a plump traffic warden up to his office and taking topless photos of her in exchange for getting her a walk-on part on a TV show.

Clifford wasn't feeling up willing teenagers who threw themselves at him: he was taking advantage of vulnerable girls who wanted to be stars. In his office, aided by hoax phone calls he claimed were from directors, he would promise the moon and indulge in various unpleasant kinds of sexual assault.

The most ghastly case was that of a 15-year-old he groomed when in 1977 he met her and her parents on holiday in Spain. What he did to her back in London in his office and his car was vile. She didn't want to shame her parents, but in 2011, after they died, she had professional counselling and wrote to Clifford telling him what he'd done, calling him "a grade-A paedophile" and "every little girl's worst nightmare". When she reported him a year later, the police found it in his bedside drawer, presumably there because he found it arousing.

Clifford told the Leveson Inquiry into the press that hacking was "a cancer", and was proud that he had taken a million off News International to settle his own case. The truth is that he was an even more virulent cancer. He has now been surgically removed from society. The press will be cleaner for his passing.

www.ruthdudleyedwards.com

Twitter @RuthDE

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