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Sunday 9 March 2014


It's not only Brooks who faces turmoil

Stormy times are upon publicist Max Clifford and former PM Tony Blair, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Among the names that cropped up last week during the cross-examination of Rebekah Brooks (one-time editor of the News of the World (NotW) and of the Sun, from 2009 chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International, and now at the Old Bailey answering charges of conspiracy to hack phones, pay officials for information and cover up evidence to pervert the course of justice) were those of two famous men who are themselves having a rather torrid time.

One is Max Clifford, a celebrity publicist known as a purveyor of kiss-and-tell stories but most famous for a concoction he has cheerfully admitted was totally invented. "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster" was an Eighties' Sun headline that comedian Starr endorsed because it gave a huge boost to his reputation. Clifford had been paid many millions over many years for NotW stories, explained Brooks, but after a falling-out in 2005 he defected to its rivals and in 2010 he launched civil proceedings against the paper over the hacking of his phone by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Fearful that Mulcaire would identify NotW journalists involved, Brooks persuaded Clifford to return to the fold, drop his case and provide stories in return for £200,000 per annum and his legal costs.

Clifford had more than this revelation to worry about last week when he appeared in Southwark Crown Court facing 11 charges of indecent assault from 1966 and 1984 made by seven complainants. Allegedly he bragged of his famous contacts, promised the "starstruck" teenagers film or modelling work and bullied or manipulated them into performing luridly described sexual acts.

Meanwhile, just a few weeks after featuring photographs of Tony Blair and Wendi Deng gazing into each other's eyes which illustrated stories that Murdoch had filed for divorce because he believed they were having an affair, the media had pictures of Blair looking fondly at Rebekah Brooks over reports of her cross-examination about the support he had offered her at the height of the hacking crisis.

"Let me know if there is anything I can do to help," he emailed. "Thinking of you. I've been through things like this."

He would later give her practical advice in a phone- call on the very day Ed Miliband was in the House of Commons demanding a judge-led inquiry into News International.

Personally, I don't think Blair's been other than platonically friendly with Deng and Brooks, but all this is toxic in the Murdoch-loathing Labour Party. As he jets around the world making pots of money advising nasty governments like those of Kazakhstan and Mongolia, Blair is, apparently, feeling rather lost and lonely and has been hoping to be able to settle back in Britain and become a respected elder statesman and adviser to his old party.

Last week it was said that he's been talking to senior people in his cash-strapped old party about making "a large donation", but even if he does it won't win many hearts. Although he gives generously to worthy charities and does much good work for nothing, the prophet is not honoured in his own country and with uncomfortable revelations expected about weapons of mass destruction when the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry reports, things can only get worse.

Nor, with his perma-tan, his exquisite tailoring and his seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity company, does New Tony suit a party that these days has rediscovered its taste for class warfare.

When the attention of the court moved from hacking to concealing evidence, Brooks sketched in the period immediately before her horse-trainer husband Charlie confessed to her that the police had found bags he'd hidden. She had resigned her job and been "marched out of the building", had spent 12.5 hours being interviewed by police, got home at 12.45am to find a stressed Charlie "three sheets to the wind", had visited her lawyers in the morning and had lunch and a sleep before getting up to do her preparation for a meeting the next day with a parliamentary select committee.

At this moment her husband broke the news that he had hidden his "rather large" lesbian pornography collection with DVDs, his laptops and various other items behind the bins under the flats. From a woman who hit the headlines when she was arrested on suspicion of assaulting her first husband, hardman Ross Kemp, her admission that she had then "lost it" conjures up interesting images. "'It was the final straw of quite a cataclysmic few days."

That was July 2011. Six months later, at 4.45am, the police burst through the Brooks front door to arrest Charlie. If there's one thing that a lot of these celebrity cases have in common, it's the cops' penchant for arresting people at dreadful hours of the morning years after the offences they're alleged to have committed.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards