The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…


  • Mr Clifford, could you give the Inquiry your full name.

  • Are the contents of your witness statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • Can I start, please, by having a little look at your career. You are a public relations consultant, very well-known, both within the industry and indeed internationally. You started off with a brief career in local journalism, then you joined EMI Records in the early 1960s as a press officer and promoted EMI artists and their records.

    In 1971, you formed your own public relations company, Max Clifford Associates, initially representing pop stars and entertainers, but more recently your business has grown to include many different types of client, including not only stars but also companies, organisations and events.

  • In addition to your commercial work, you do a great deal of charity work in public relations. You tell us that you spent most of your time working, broadly speaking, in public relations, but also a significant minority of your time breaking stories and giving interviews to newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Perhaps the most well-known side of your business is the story side of your business, but you tell us that in fact that only forms about 15 per cent of your business' overall work; is that right?

  • Yes. In terms of my time and in terms of the money it brings into the company.

  • You are yourself a victim of phone hacking. You tell us in your witness statement that you were contacted in 2006, first of all by your mobile phone company and then afterwards by the Metropolitan Police, who notified you that your voicemail had been accessed. You subsequently learnt that you were hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, acting for the News of the World. Is that right?

  • You came to a settlement with News International, didn't you?

  • And it was unusual in that you negotiated it yourself directly with Rebekah Brooks; is that correct?

  • Could you tell the Inquiry briefly what the terms of the settlement were that you negotiated with Rebekah Brooks?

  • It was over a quiet lunch not long after Rebekah had been made chief executive, I'd known her for many, many years, Mews in Mayfair, just around the corner from my office and it was £220,000 a year for three years plus all my legal costs.

  • In return for the £220,000 per year, did you agree to provide stories for the News of the World?

  • It was continuating. I had a working relationship with the News of the World, as I did with all newspapers for many years, so -- but when I fell out with Andy Coulson, I stopped working with them, I wouldn't deal with them. That went on for a few years, which is when my phone was being hacked.

    I agreed with Rebekah that, as part of our commercial settlement, I would recontinue my relationship with the News of the World, who I'd had a close relationship with for 30 years before Andy Coulson, under a succession of editors, and I was happy to do that. Although I wasn't dealing with the News of the World for those years, I was still dealing with the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times on a weekly basis.

  • Is it right that News International also paid all of your legal costs?

  • Yes, which was I think somewhere over £300,000. The whole package came to just under a million pounds.

  • Was there any confidentiality agreement?

  • Yes. We shook hands. There was no contract. We shook hands on the understanding I wouldn't reveal the details of my settlement, which I didn't until News of the World lawyers revealed the details of my settlement, even though they got it slightly wrong.

  • Can I ask you now to cast your mind back. Was there a point in time when it became common rumour within the media industry that mobile telephones were being hacked?

  • Yes. I mean it was something that I was aware of, and various journalists and people in and around the industry had spoken to me about and had spoken to each other about when I was there. Probably from early 2000. Although I will say that many, many years before, you know, I was warning clients about -- when they were in this country about being very careful about what you say on the telephone, because things that were taking part in conversations were certainly appearing in the newspapers. I remember having those conversations with people as different as Muhammad Ali and Marlon Brando, and that was long before this.

  • That's telephones, not mobiles?

  • I'm not too clever about when mobile phones really got going because I was a late starter, but it was just phones, yeah. Phone messages or phones being overheard, listened to, you know.

  • You're talking about things like people listening in on an extension, that sort of thing?

  • Was there similarly rumour within the media industry that confidential information was being obtained by blagging from various people?

  • Yes, pretending to be somebody they weren't and getting information that way?

  • I think as time went by, the years went by, and the competition got fiercer and circulation started to subside, so methods became more and more creative. Any means. What happened, what mattered was getting a result. So in my view that's what was going on, and particularly with a -- you know, I suppose a significant minority of Fleet Street's finest. I mean, I would stress that in my experience, the vast majority of journalists I've worked with and the vast majority of journalists I've been closely involved with for 45 years or more, press, television, radio, wouldn't get involved in anything like this, and the tiny minority that did, some of them were forced. Some of them had no choice. If you don't, you're out, you're sacked, you're finished. That's my belief. But it was a tiny minority. It was a cancer which hopefully now is being cut out.

  • Is the source of your information simply the many conversations that you have with people within the industry or do you have anything more specific?

  • No, no, it's not specific. I mean, it isn't something that I was making a detailed study of or survey of. It was just something I became increasingly aware of as the years went by, particularly over the last ten years. And with regard to stars and phones, you know, bugs would be put in rooms where they were staying in hotels and things like that, and that's long before the phone hacking, mobile phones.

  • Do you have any feel for what's going on at the moment? Has the scandal which broke last summer had a chilling effect on the types of methods which are being used now to obtain stories?

  • I mean hopefully yes, I mean, it's frightened people and made them stop those kind of things, which is what I believe and sincerely hope, but also the effect of this Inquiry, I think, has frightened editors, so, you know, for example, in recent months there's several major stories which would have dominated the headlines that I'm aware of which haven't come out.

  • I don't want you on that topic to say anything which would invade any individual's privacy, but can you give us some idea of what exactly it is which is holding editors back from publishing the sort of story you have just mentioned?

  • Well, I think it's a backlash. It's a public backlash. I mean, what really got the British public angry was Milly Dowler and the McCanns, wasn't it? People like that. You know, stars having their phones tapped, people like myself that are successful, wealthy, have done very, very well out of the media or films, television, so what, those people don't care, they have far more important things to worry about. But when they read and heard about Milly Dowler, when they read and heard about the McCanns, I think they were shocked and horrified. That had an effect. And that sent shock waves throughout Fleet Street, particularly the tabloids.

    So editors, I think, in more recent times, I know, because of conversations, because of things have come up, because of things I'm aware of, wouldn't run with something because of the Leveson Inquiry. So it's gone from one extreme to the other.

  • You'd better tell me, Mr Clifford, excluding the possible impact on your business, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  • I think it's a good thing, because they're being far more responsible and it has no impact on my business because --

  • All right, I was just trying to make sure.

  • You were asked whether you were aware of any other forms of hacking and what you tell us in your witness statement is that you worked with Rebecca Leighton, who was the nurse who, it turns out, was wrongly accused of poisoning her patients by tampering with saline drips, and you tell us in your witness statement that you have real concerns about photographs which were taken from her Facebook account and then used in national media stories.

    I don't want to ask you about the technical details, because I understand that you're not a Facebook user --

  • -- yourself, but it was a concern that those photographs had been obtained when they shouldn't have been?

  • I mean, this was basically she came to me for help because she was being destroyed by the media, she said unfairly, the same as Robert Murat did years before over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. I introduced her to Charlotte Harris and it was Charlotte that basically came up with this and brought this to my attention.

  • Thank you. You have previously described the British media as being the most savage media in the world.

  • Apart, perhaps, from the slight chilling effect that you've described a moment ago, do you still think that that is true?

  • I mean I think it's a bit gentler at the moment, but potentially, yes, they destroy people. I mean, they also do a lot of wonderful things, a lot of very good things, and if we didn't have a free press, we wouldn't know about MPs fiddling their expenses and all kinds of things that we must know about and we must have a free press. It's the best chance anybody's got, otherwise we're like Chinese and Russians and just slaves to the system.

    But are they savage? Can they be savage? Absolutely right. Of course some of the most successful papers are the most savage because an awful lot of people would much rather read nasty things about other people than nice things.

  • Perhaps that's a useful introduction to look at some particular aspects of your public relations work. I'd like first of all to turn to the story side of your business.

  • On Max Clifford Associates Limited's website there it is a page which carries a heading "Got a news story", and it explains essentially what it is that you do. It says that you've been responsible for over 170 front-page exclusives within the last 18 months. Is that broadly speaking correct?

  • And that what you do is that if someone has got a story that you think is worth pursuing, that you will broker the story for the highest possible price?

  • No, not necessarily. It depends what people want. Sometimes they don't want money, they want justice. Sometimes they want to clear their name. Sometimes -- so it just depends on what it is. Every situation is different and every time anybody comes to me, it's a different -- sometimes a different scenario. Sometimes it's purely just a question of stopping things which are damaging them.

    For example, when the News of the World came out with their story about Max Mosley, which I had nothing to do with, within a period of time the woman who had organised Mr Mosley's entertainment contacted me. Can she come and see me? So she did, and she explained that she was there and I think she'd arranged the other ladies that were there entertaining Mr Mosley, but there was no Nazi theme to this at all. What she said was "The News of the World now are trying to get me to say there was, and if I don't, they're going to put my name and pictures all over the papers."

    I contacted people at the News of the World and stopped it. That kind of things happens all the time. There's no money involved, but you're in the middle of all kind of things like that all the time.

    When people come to me, I check out the story, or people that work for me check out the story, and if we believe it to be true and if we want to get involved, then it's a question of contacting the newspaper or it might be Panorama or it might be -- and set up meetings and then it goes in or it doesn't go in, according to what the newspaper, television or whatever discovers and what proof there is.

  • I see. I'll be coming back in a little while to the people that you've helped protect from publicity, but for the moment, dealing with those that you have helped to break stories.

  • Typical examples might be Rebecca Loos or Bienvenida Buck or Daisy Wright, who was Jude Law's nanny?

  • Have you noticed that the recent developments in the law of injunctions, have they had an effect on kiss-and-tell stories?

  • Yes, they have, because injunctions or superinjunctions is something that obviously protects the rich and famous. Unfortunately, it's not available to ordinary members of the public, but fortunately, because of Ryan Giggs, I think that hopefully that's on the way out.

  • You're on record as having said to a reporter from the Guardian, or it's published in the Guardian, at least, that only 20 per cent of the stories that you've placed in your career would qualify for publication on the grounds of public interest, and I'm reading a quotation, "a real public interest".

  • Yeah, I would say that 20, maybe 25 per cent. I mean, you know, we're going back 40 years. And there's probably 50 per cent that are -- could be debated, with a very strong argument for both sides, and then there's another 25 per cent that there's no way, or 20, 25 per cent. I couldn't ever justify Freddie Starr and the hamster as being in the public interest. I wouldn't try to.

  • Has there been a trend? Are there now about the same or more or less stories that you could put your hand on your heart and say are genuinely in the public interest?

  • It hasn't changed at all.

  • On that question of factual detail, there are stories which you've been involved in which have become famous because of details which turned out not to be true. One of the most famous was the "Freddie Starr ate my hamster" headline. What role did you play in that false headline?

  • As I say, 80 per cent of my business is and has been public relations. I'm paid retainers by clients. Freddie Starr was a client for years.

    Someone went to the Sun when Kelvin MacKenzie was editor, 1986, claiming that Freddie had eaten her hamster. She had a boyfriend Freddie was on good terms with. They'd fallen out and as an act of spite and vengeance.

    So Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of the Sun, called me and said, "We've got this great story on Freddie Starr". "What is it?" "It's he ate a hamster", et cetera, et cetera. I said "Can you give me an hour and I'll get back to you".

    I phoned Freddie and he denied it. I phoned his manager, Leon Fisk, and he said as far as he was aware he'd never seen Freddie eat a hamster and he was with him most of the time in those days and they both said could I stop it?

    My decision was to say to Kelvin, "Freddie denies eating a hamster, but I'm more than happy for the story to go in because he's about to do a British tour and I think it would be great publicity for him". Fortunately for me it worked out that way.

  • Did you see any ethical difficulty in effectively giving Mr MacKenzie the green light to publish --

  • -- a false story?

  • No. I told Mr MacKenzie that Freddie had denied it. He said to me, "Have you ever seen him do anything like that?" and I said, "No, I've seen him put some very strange things in his mouth over the years, but never a hamster", because that is the truth, I haven't. But I was happy to encourage it because I was looking after Freddie's career and his PR and I believed it would be something which would help him.

  • So effectively you passed the decision to Mr MacKenzie?

  • In spite of my client wanting me to stop it.

  • The other perhaps infamous example was the detail that was given of David Mellor's affair with Antonia de Sancha. Is it right that the detail about the Chelsea football shirt was completely made up?

  • Well, I mean the only person that knows what David Mellor wore was Antonia de Sancha and David Mellor. I didn't give the interview. I wasn't in the room with the journalist when Antonia de Sancha gave the interview. She had to swear, I would assume, an affidavit that that's exactly what happened.

    So, you know, everyone has always said, "Well, you made it up". I didn't make it up. And even if I had have made it up, she was doing the interview and I had nothing to do with that interview. I don't tend to sit in, because to be honest with you, I don't particularly want to hear about what David Mellor might have been up to in the bedroom. It does nothing to entertain or even interest me. Again, to be honest with you, I'd much rather enjoy a sex life than read about other people's.

  • I'm thinking because that was perhaps a detail, unlike the Freddie Starr story, that did actually have consequences because it was one thing for Mr Mellor to face the consequences of what he did actually do; it was quite another for him to suffer the humiliation of being ridiculed for something that he didn't do.

  • Well, if he didn't, the only two people that know that are David Mellor and Antonia de Sancha.

  • You've described to the Select Committee back in 2003, and two others, how you've witnessed celebrity culture in this country change over the decades.

  • Do you think that the British obsession with celebrity has reached an unhealthy level?

  • I think it's unhealthy that celebrities have so much influence over young people, and stars, for lots of different reasons.

    I think there was a survey just a few years ago of 8-year-olds asked what they wanted to do, a national survey, when they left school, and a huge amount said, "Be famous". Well, that's sad, and of course because so many celebrities are famous when they've obviously got absolutely no talent at all, then I think it obviously can be worrying.

    I think I've always tried, whenever I speak on television or in the media or at universities or -- to explain my thoughts about stars and celebrities as being generally much ado about nothing, a world full of very selfish people who generally are only interested in one person, and often, including major stars, people who are very unhappy because no matter how big they become, they're jealous of somebody else or petrified of someone else coming up behind them.

    So I would agree with what you're saying, but it's not something I've ever tried to promote or believe.

  • I wasn't suggesting that you were, I was just trying to establish what your view was. And also from your inside view and enormous experience of the industry, is it right that the media industry has deliberately built up and then knocked down celebrities?

  • Well, it's commercial. It sells. You know, there's a huge market grown up in the last 10, 20 years. You only have to look at the girlie magazines and the fact that most tabloid newspapers now have a huge amount of stories about so-called celebrities, and, you know, columns in all the big national tabloids about celebrities, which obviously journalists have to fill every day. To me, it's always been much to do about very little, but it's become a very big industry.

    As to whether it's right or wrong, I mean, you know, that's basically controlled by the British public. If they don't want to read it, they don't buy it, in which case the magazines and papers won't write it. But because it's seen to be successful and market research must have shown that, it will continue.

  • Can I move now back to the subject of the ordinary people caught up in stories who you've helped. You mentioned a moment ago Robert Murat. This Inquiry has heard quite a lot of evidence about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the effects that this had on media coverage and the suffering of the McCann family.

    Can I ask you, in your work with Mr Murat was the PCC of any use?

  • Well, I mean, they were nowhere on the horizon. No, Robert Murat came to me, initially his mother and then his aunt, incredibly upset because of what was appearing in the British press about him, and asking me if I'd be prepared to help him. They explained he didn't have any money, but this was a man who was bordering on suicide. They were being spat at in the street. So I said, "Well, I am happy to", you know, if I sit down and listen to what he has to say, and I did, and I got involved. And what I tried to do was to help him stop this problem.

  • If I could just pause you there, for a man who is there on the brink of being destroyed by the media in a fast-moving story, what sort of measures are really effective at preventing the damage?

  • I've had this discussion for many, many years. The only really effective way is you have to have a strong Press Complaints Commission, an independent Press Complaints Commission, which isn't financed by Fleet Street, which is prepared to be proactive, not just for stars and the so-called celebrities. They get plenty of protection, more protection than many of them deserve because they can afford to employ rich lawyers and expensive PR people like me to protect them.

    Ordinary members of the public in my view have got no one at all and no protection from anybody. Certainly not within the law. I mean, I've known of dozens and dozens of examples of people whose lives have been damaged, destroyed, by excessive media activity. And there is no one there for them.

    It's vitally important that we -- if one good thing comes out of this Inquiry, I hope that that's what will happen.

  • So what you're envisaging, if I'm understanding you correctly, is at least some part of a future regulator which is capable of reacting very quickly when an ordinary member of the public comes to them with a complaint about press conduct?

  • It's not just that, it's more than that. It's a lot more than that. Anticipation. The biggest part of public relations in terms of damage limitation is anticipation. If you're aware of a potential problem, you can do something about it.

    When a member of the public is suddenly contacted by a national newspaper with a story which potentially is going to be incredibly damaging to them, their family, they should be able to call someone who will help them, and if necessary, that person has the power to stop that story until they've had a chance to show, see the proof, see the justification.

    Afterwards is too late, the damage has been done.

  • Can I take it from your answer that implicit in that is you think that prior notification of damaging stories is utterly essential?

  • Absolutely. I'm not talking about exposing major security risk, terrorists, paedophiles, all these kind of things. I'm talking about ordinary members of the public that suddenly something's happened in their family and they're thrown into the media spotlight. They need to be able to contact a professional body which will take care of them so that they can say, "This newspaper has contacted me and they want or they're threatening or we don't want to have anything to do with them, this is a private matter within our family, or what they're coming out with is totally untrue, unfair" and this body will have to say to the editor, "You don't run that until we've had a chance to look into it, on the understanding that if it stands up and if it's justified, that newspaper still gets the exclusive, so that the competition can't take advantage of that".

    That's your only way it's ever going to be remotely fair for the vast numbers of people that are put in this situation, like the McCanns, like Robert Murat, like dozens and dozens of others.

  • So it follows that that sort of regulator needs to have really quite significant powers --

  • -- to dictate to the press at those times?

  • Absolutely, they have to have the power to stop the excesses, to stop the wrong.

  • In terms of funding, you said that you didn't think it should be a body funded by the press. Why do you say that?

  • It's not going to be independent. They're paying their wages. So it has to be funded by, in my view, Parliament, because we must have a free press, but we must have a responsible press in any healthy democracy. It should be also funded by newspapers. They should contribute, but they mustn't have a controlling interest financially or in any other way.

  • No doubt that thinking translates in your mind to who should be making the decisions on such a regulatory body. Do you think there is any place at all for a serving newspaper editor on such a body or not?

  • Do you think there is a place on such a body for a retired newspaper editor?

  • Depends on the individual. I mean, I wouldn't like to see Kelvin MacKenzie on the board.

  • Do I take it from that that what you think is the single most important quality for somebody in any regulator is someone who the public are going to have confidence will act fairly and impartially?

  • You want a fair and strong and independent man or woman, men and women making those decisions, with no bias, with no advantages from newspapers or anybody else.

  • It might be said for those in the PCC that they have introduced an anti-harassment service. How effective, in your experience, has the existing anti-harassment service been?

  • Well, I mean, I'm in the industry. I'd never heard of it. So, you know, I'm sure that the vast majority of the British public won't be aware. But also, I think the vast majority of the British public, certainly those I've known of and met and been involved with, wouldn't have had a clue about the Press Complaints Commission, how to contact them and what to do. It's not something that everyone is aware of and very few people.

  • Is that another point that we should take on board for the future, namely that any future body needs to be very well publicised?

  • Absolutely right. In other words, if you need an ambulance, you know who to call. If suddenly you're thrust into a potential media nightmare, you need someone you can call straight away who is able to respond and hopefully stop a potential disaster which could destroy you and your family.

  • Can I move now to the work you've done on enhancing the public relations profiles of clients. I understand that a lot of your clients are corporate clients but for the purposes of this Inquiry, I'm more interested in perhaps some of the celebrities. If we take as an example Mr Simon Cowell, it's right, isn't it, that he's been a client of yours for some years now?

  • I don't want to press you for the precise fees that he pays you, but would it be fair to say that they are very substantial sums of money?

  • I mean, most of my clients pay me in the region of £200,000 to £250,000 a year.

  • And in return for that, you use your knowledge of the industry and your extensive contacts and your skills in public relations to advise them, to get them introductions to assist with their profile?

  • You do the best you can to obviously enhance their career in whatever shape or form. Initially, particularly with someone -- I mean, when Simon first came to me, he wasn't known, so initially it was about promotion. As the years went by and he became more and more successful internationally, so then it becomes more and more about protection, as with all of the big stars I've ever worked with or do work with.

  • If we go back to the start of that relationship, is it right that what you were able to do is introduce Mr Cowell to people close to the Murdochs?

  • Yes. I mean, I think I was instrumental in introducing Simon to Rupert Murdoch by a contact I had at News International, probably including Rebekah, because don't forget, his aspirations were very much television, and particularly when it came to the States, which was a very, very big target for Simon, Rupert Murdoch was a very powerful force.

  • And it's perhaps a testament to what you've been able to do for him initially and now to protect him from, and other clients like him, that the effect of your work is enough to command fees of the type that you have described?

  • The only reason for Simon Cowell's success is Simon Cowell, but obviously in terms of the media, in terms of image, particularly in the early days, you know, you play a big part in creating that image, and also trying to do the best you can to control that image as it grows, but also making sure you don't do an interview with that journalist because you can't trust him, you can't do an interview with that, don't do this, don't go there.

    In the early days, although you're promoting them, you're also teaching them the minefield that the media is, not just in this country, but everywhere. "If you say that to this one, then that's not how it's going to appear so don't".

  • On that question of trust, what sort of proportion of journalists do you consider are trustworthy and what proportion untrustworthy?

  • It's very simple. Most of the journalists I deal with are trustworthy, because you don't work with those that aren't. Over the years, the vast majority of journalists I've worked with in the press, radio and television have been and are trustworthy. There's a few that aren't. Probably in the last ten years with the pressures of Fleet Street, those numbers have increased slightly, but they're still the minority. And often those journalists that are doing things that maybe they shouldn't be doing are desperately unhappy about doing them, but if they don't, then they've lost their job.

  • Mr Clifford, if I could now perhaps explore with you some of the approaches that you might use to protect somebody from a damaging media attack, the first example I would like to take is from your book, and it's in the chapter about Rebecca Loos and David Beckham, and obviously in that case you acted for Rebecca Loos, but what the book says at the end of the chapter is if in fact your client had been David Beckham, there are things that you might have been able to do to limit the damage to his reputation.

  • It says:

    "Max could have arranged for David to either lose his mobile or lend it to a mate. The friend, who would have been single, would have owned up to having used the phone to send sexy text messages for a laugh and been paid handsomely to keep his mouth shut."

  • I think at the time that was quite light and flippant, you know, but it does and has happened.

    The biggest part of stopping damaging stories, whether they're sex scandals -- and I've stopped hundreds of them over the years, from many of the stars I've represented or even just people I've known -- is anticipation. You're aware that they're looking to do this. You know, there's a major star that was involved not so very long ago who had a real drug problem. No one knew that, but I was aware that a newspaper were looking into it, so I made very sure that they couldn't get the evidence that they wanted in order to come out with that.

    Another example just recently was when Imogen Thomas came to me and said "I believe the Sun are about to run a story about my relationship with" an alleged footballer, because I don't think I'm allowed to mention his name, there is an injunction.

  • There's no need to anyway.

  • All right. "Because of a famous footballer, what can I do?" So I called the editor of the Sun or one of the editors of the Sun and found out they didn't have enough to make the story stand up. My advice to her was, "Say nothing, keep away from the famous footballer, phone him and warn him and it will go away. They can't prove it."

    She did just that. The famous footballer then contacted his lawyer and the rest is history. So I'm protecting and stopping things all the time. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can't. And, you know, if you like, the famous footballer wasn't a client.

  • You give another example in your book of a senior Labour Party politician, some years ago now, and you say that he was concerned that an infidelity was going to be exposed by the other party and that you advised him that he should expect a telephone call from the woman which would be recorded and used as proof, and so your advice to him was not to say anything incriminating when the call came, and such a call did in fact come. Is that again the sort of advice you give?

  • I did that just last week with a very famous artist.

  • Sticking with the senior Labour politician, you go on in your book to say that it was in fact that same person who later, by way of returning the favour, told you about Cherie Blair's pregnancy?

  • That wasn't the source of my information, but they confirmed it.

  • It wasn't -- I think Alastair Campbell claimed it came from phone hacking. It wasn't. It was from someone who was very chose to Cherie Blair and she confided in him. They told me, I checked it out and it appeared two days before they were going to release it anyway. I think I gave it to Piers.

  • You say in your book you told Piers Morgan and Piers Morgan consulted Mr Campbell.

  • Well, Piers would know who, yes, fine, but it didn't come out as a result of phone hacking.

  • Another device, is it right, for protecting a client would be if there are incriminating photographs -- I use the word incriminating in the widest sense -- that you buy them up?

  • Yes. There's been many, many times over the years when people have come to me with pictures which, if they appeared in the national press, would be very embarrassing to some of the stars I've represented, so prevention is better than cure, so it's a straightforward business situation. I'm not talking about paedophiles or anything underage or anything like that, just straightforward someone having a relationship when they're in a relationship, or it's not in their interest for it to come out.

  • I understand. Do you sometimes call in favours amongst your many contacts to protect your clients?

  • As much as I possibly can. You know, you do what you can. You try to have as much influence as you possibly can, and any PR person that doesn't try the same I think I would be tending to be a bit suspicious of.

  • And presumably if an editor is committed or wants to publish a story, one of the things that you can do is to say that you will be able to assist your client to have a voice in responding to any story and pointing out just how sleazy the publisher is being in publishing the story. Is that another device?

  • I think it's just -- I mean, you're just aware. For example, I mean the slightly different tack, when Gerald Ratner destroyed his business by talking about that a lot of his jewellery was rubbish or whatever, he tried to argue he never said it or he didn't really mean it or it was taken out of context, and of course no one would print it because it was really journalists saying that journalists were unreliable, we're unreliable.

    So when a few years later -- I had no involvement with that at all -- he came to me and he said "I'm about to relaunch a new business, will you help me?" I explained "Okay, fine, but what you have to do is to take the blame. Say that it was totally down to you, you did say that, you made a fool of yourself, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, they'll be happy to write that." And they did. Within a few months, his business was back, Gerald Online was back, making more money than his jewellery business. So it's understanding the way it works, and most of it's common sense.

  • Sir, is that a convenient moment?

  • Yes. We'll just take five minutes.

  • (A short break)

  • Mr Clifford, can we move now to the relationship between the press and politicians, and such insights about that relationship as you might be able to give us?

    First of all, what has been your experience of politicians and attitudes to image and public relations?

  • Well, I suppose we tend to follow the Americans, so I think our politicians today are far more aware of image and presentation, and I think the whole of the approach to politics has been influenced by what I would call the American way, where image is everything and American presidential campaigns are like popularity contests, far more about presentation often than substance.

    So I think to a degree it's happened over here. David Cameron was a public relations man, I believe, years ago, and it shows.

  • How has that affected politicians' approach to the media?

  • I think they're far more realistic. I mean, the media have become far more intrusive over the last 20 years, it's an increasing thing. So the kind of things that Winston Churchill might have done and got away with, you wouldn't today. Or anybody, any major leader. That's just how things have gone.

  • Have you detected any fear amongst politicians of the press and what the press might do to their image and popularity?

  • Well, a popularity contest is an important part of being a politician, so like any major star, you want to try and get the best from the media, and I think more and more politicians are probably guided by the PR people behind the political parties, et cetera.

    I mean, I remember doing Question Time many years ago and we were talking about various subjects that might come up before the show, because they don't tell you, and what astonished me was when I went on the show, the politicians representing the different parties, what they said in answer to a question that came up was very different from what they said before we went on, because that was the party line, so therefore they had to stick to that. Even though it wasn't necessarily what they believed or thought or -- but that's just the way it's gone.

  • Have you come across the press trying to exploit the power that they have over the image of politicians in any way?

  • Well, I mean, I think it's fair to say that any newspaper proprietor would want to have as much influence as possible, and obviously, you know, politicians have a lot of power and make decisions and make policies that can have a big impact on them and their businesses, but it's not just newspaper proprietors, it's anybody out there. Whether they're in the City, in banks, in vast organisations, the closer and the more influence you can have on the people of power, obviously the better for you.

  • Of course. But the difference between the media and other industries is they have the voice, the power to publish stories to millions of people.

  • So what I was exploring is whether you have any experience of the press using that power to try and influence politicians.

  • No. I've not had any close involvement on the kind of things that could have gone on behind the scenes, but obviously again common sense tells you that Rupert Murdoch supporting David Cameron in the last election made a difference.

  • Have you come across -- you mentioned a moment ago politicians having to follow the party whip, which we well know.

  • Have you come across politicians within the same party trying to damage each other's reputations and using the media to do that?

  • I think that's all part of being an ambitious politician. You want to get on. You want to be the top person, so some people are more ambitious than others. Whether they're journalists or politicians.

  • I don't want you to give any names or details, but have you any personal knowledge of that sort of thing happening?

  • Well, I've got an awful lot of awareness of powerful important people in newspapers wanting to have as much influence as possible on politicians, but that's probably always been the case. It's just possibly a bit easier now to see.

  • Can I ask you now particularly about the approach of the New Labour press machine, and what's commonly been known as the spin doctors.

  • When Alastair Campbell began to work for Tony Blair, what observations do you have about the way in which he dealt with the media in the late 1990s?

  • I suppose Alastair Campbell was new to public relations, he'd been a Daily Mirror journalist. My observations, not at close hand but from a distance, based on dealing with the media, talking to journalists, was that Alastair got a bit carried away with the power that Tony Blair had at that time and possibly years later would have regretted the way he dealt with Fleet Street.

  • What way is that?

  • Well, telling rather than asking. Ordering rather than discussing. Threatening rather than. That's the impression I got. You know, and everybody does things their own way. But, you see, it's very easy to be strong as a PR when you have something that everybody wants. For the five or ten minutes when your person, Tony Blair or whoever, is incredibly popular, you can do that, but that doesn't last and you have to remember that when you need friends and when you need to try and do the best you can for the people you're representing when they become unpopular or something happens.

    You know, my observation from a distance was that when Alastair, who was new to it, you know, the major criticism -- only criticism -- was that his ways were certainly not the ways that I would have employed or used, and my own experience was that at that particular time, Peter Mandelson was very complimentary to me because I was bringing out Tory sleaze, but after the election, I never heard from him.

  • Was Mr Campbell selective in those to whom he would feed stories?

  • I know very little about Alastair Campbell in terms of how he operated, who he spoke to, how he dealt with. You know, I've given you an overall observation. It's purely on PR and talking to people in the media, but I honestly don't know.

  • I don't want to press you into areas that you can't help us with, so it's a very fair answer, Mr Clifford, and I'll move on now to the question of editorial independence. You said to the Select Committee back in 2003, well, the picture you painted was that editors do have a good degree of editorial independence. I think the way you described it then was Mr Desmond was the man who tended to intervene the most, that you thought that at that time Mr Morgan and Ms Brooks would have far more editorial independence than those working to Mr Desmond, and you described Mr Dacre as being a law unto himself.

  • That was going to be my question, save, of course, the identity of some of the Murdoch editors.

    The next topic I'd like to ask you about is apologies and the prominence of apologies. There's been a lot of evidence from those who are being apologised to that they don't think the apologies are big enough or prominent enough. Is that a criticism that you would identify with?

  • One hundred per cent. I think if you come out with a front page splash, which is then shown to be totally untrue, then the apology should be at least noted on the front page of that paper. It would be a very quick way of stopping an awful lot of front pages which shouldn't have come out. So I'm not saying dominating the page, but for example, at the bottom of the front page, "We got it wrong". Page 5, page 10, page 7, "We got it wrong." Clearly at the bottom of the page. So everybody that saw that piece, and much, much quicker, not months and months and months when everybody's forgotten it, but very quickly, okay, which is why a body like I talked about hopefully would do that, that is there, clearly for everybody to see. That's what I would like to see. It won't happen, but I'd love to see it.

  • There was some discussion in 2003 in the Select Committee of the possibility of requiring advertisements with apologies to be printed not in a guilty paper, but in some of its rivals. Do you think that's a realistic idea?

  • No, because the damning thing is -- they tend to -- they're not going to have a go at each other, because they all do the same thing. You know, it's the readers that saw that. Plus, from your point of view, if you've been wrongly accused, wrongly exposed, wrongly -- then it's the people who read that you want to be seeing it was wrong. You know, because they're aware of it if you see what I'm saying. They're the ones you're concerned about. They're the ones that the damage has been done. So that's something again I've advocated for many, many, many years.

  • Finally, a witness earlier today, Heather Mills, in her witness statement has made reference to you. I'm going to read out the reference. It's not a matter which is likely to need to be adjudicated on in this Inquiry, but because it's been raised, I'm going to touch upon it and give you the opportunity to respond.

    Paragraph 21 of Heather Mills' statement says:

    "It was only when I would not give them the Paul and I story that they turned on me in 1999. I remember getting a call from Max Clifford (who I had never heard of at the time) saying words to the effect of 'If you do not let me represent you as Paul's new girlfriend I am going to destroy you'. At the time I dismissed it not knowing he would go on to arrange for various people to sell lies about me for money."

    Is that allegation true?

  • There's an awful lot of things I could say about Heather Mills, but I won't. It's totally untrue, 100 per cent untrue, without any true foundation at all.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Clifford. Those were all my questions.

  • Mr Clifford, there are a couple of things you said that I'd like to just ask you about.

    You have spoken of the need, with which I entirely agree, for a free press.

  • By which I apprehend you mean independent press with free speech.

  • Yes. Yeah, a brave free press that is prepared to challenge and prepared to be controversial and stand up. Yes.

  • On the other hand, you speak about a body which has the power effectively to stop the press.

  • When they get it wrong, yes.

  • When they get it wrong. I have received submission after submission in this room that anything that has a statute surrounding it will impact adversely on the freedom of the press and free speech, and I'd be very interested to know how you square that circle.

  • I don't think that is the case. I think that the British public are increasingly disenchanted with the honesty of the British press and I think that something like this would help to restore their confidence, and if the British public were confident that they were getting a free, independent but honest press, then I think that that would be a plus, and a plus in the circulation battle as well.

    I think that the credibility of the British press has sunk in recent years, partly because of what's gone on with News of the World and News International. So I don't think so. I think that the more responsible and the more caring the British press, the better.

    I would also love to see good news in the British papers, because it helps to give the nation a lift. Unfortunately, it's very hard to get good news stories in the papers, and I'm talking about ordinary members of the public and the wonderful things that people do all over Britain every day, which will never ever be reported.

    So there's lots of things, but certainly I don't think that having a responsible body that is able to protect the excesses of the media would in any way be damaging to them or their freedom, and I think it would give them greater respect, and in the long term, possibly help the chances of their survival.

  • Inevitably, if it's going to have the force, the ability to be able to stop inaccuracy, it's going to have to be backed by some sort of legal sanction, otherwise --

  • Well, I think obviously the law is still there, you know. Obviously it should be made so much easier. It should be legal aid for ordinary members of the public because they can't afford to take them on, so that would be changed, but of course people will always and do have the right to challenge.

  • So that, you know, if you've got it wrong and you're publicly admitting you've got it wrong, that's one thing. If someone then decides they want to sue you, they want to, then they have that opportunity.

  • There's no reason -- or do you think there's a reason why you shouldn't be able to run a complaints mechanism alongside taking action for libel or whatever?

  • Not at all. Not at all. I mean, I think every situation would be looked at in its own merits, the same as everything that happens in the justice system in this country with every other area. The one area where we don't have that is the media.

  • The other thing you've said -- I'll just pick up something you've just said there. Some sort of mechanism to resolve issues of privacy or libel that was inquisitorial, in other words you don't have to have two sides, you have somebody who sits in the middle and tries to sort it out, that is quick and easy to use and cheap, if not free, would that satisfy the sort of requirement that you've just identified?

  • Yes. And I don't think they have to be cheap or necessarily free, because I think it's an important part in a democracy that ordinary members of the public get protection because there's vast numbers out there and they don't get protection, so -- but that person --

  • No, no, when I say cheap or free, I mean free to use.

  • For the very reason you've identified.

  • And the public would be aware. They have a number. You know, this is the emergency number when it comes to the press. Not 999 but whatever you want to call it, they can call it and they can get a response, and someone could look after them.

    I think that out of that and lots of other things as well, you know, it makes for a much happier, healthier media and a much happier, healthier public in this country when it comes to the media. Much fairer, as well.

  • All right. You've touched upon a story and indicated an involvement in the story which has been the subject of a fair amount of evidence during the course of the last few weeks, which is the way in which the News of the World dealt with the story surrounding Mr Max Mosley and you told me that you'd become involved in the way in which you explained.

  • We've heard most of the actors in that drama, from the newspapers' perspective and indeed from Mr Mosley, as well. What they have said is not always consistent. I'd be very interested if you could tell me to whom you spoke at the News of the World about your client and who gave you the assurance that stopped that particular story running.

  • If I remember rightly, and I'm not sure, I believe it was Ian Edmondson, because at the time Ian was the news editor, and the conversation was, "This is what happened, so if I was you, I'd leave them alone." I believe it was Ian Edmondson. Probably because he was the news editor so he would have been right at the heart of what was going on.

  • The three people who might or might not have been involved were the deputy editor, the news editor and the chief reporter, Mr Thurlbeck. That's merely a statement of fact, not --

  • No, it wouldn't have been Neville Thurlbeck and it probably wouldn't have been -- would it have been Neil Wallis, the deputy editor? I think he was number two under Andy Coulson.

  • It wouldn't have been him either. It would have been probably then Ian Edmondson. It might have been someone that worked for Ian Edmondson, because when I was no longer dealing with the News of the World, the reporters were phoning me all the time saying, "Max, can't you sort out your differences with Andy Coulson, it's driving us mad because we're chasing people all over the world for them to say, oh, Max Clifford's looking after us", so it might have been one of those reporters who then reported that back.

  • But it probably was Ian Edmondson.

  • All right. Thank you very much, Mr Clifford. Thank you very much for the assistance you've given me.

  • Sir, as far as I'm aware, we're not ready for the next witness because Mr Dacre hasn't arrived.

  • Indeed, he wasn't expected until 4.15.

  • In those circumstances, might I invite you to consider rising?