LONDON (AP) — For years, the affable, white-haired Max Clifford has been the "go to" guy for British celebrities seeking help with public relations fiascos. Now it is Clifford who may need help: He was arrested Thursday as part of a wide-ranging U.K. inquiry into sex abuse.
Clifford called the allegations "damaging and totally untrue" as he left a London police station to a flurry of photographer flashbulbs.
News of the arrest shocked Britain's entertainment and media communities; Clifford has long been seen as a sage adviser with an uncanny ability to shape the news in his client's favor.
He is known for his fabled ability to get certain stories into the papers — and keep others out.
It is too early to judge the impact of Thursday's arrest on Clifford's formidable reputation. Few details were available, and it is not clear if the 69-year-old will be charged with any offenses.
Police did not name Clifford, as is customary, but his lawyer, Charlotte Harris, confirmed his arrest, which had been widely reported in the British media. She said he was cooperating with detectives.
"Max Clifford is being interviewed by police," she said in a statement. "Mr. Clifford will assist the police as best he can with their inquiries. When we are in a position to provide further information, we will."
Police said that a man in his 60s was arrested Thursday morning in Surrey, south of London, on suspicion of sexual offenses and is being questioned at a central London police station.
The police statement said the arrest was part of Operation Yewtree, a broad investigation into child sex abuse spurred by the case of Jimmy Savile, a prominent BBC television host who has, since his death last year, been linked to serial sex abuse of underage girls. Police have said there may be several hundred victims.
The police statement does not link Thursday's arrest to child sex abuse. It was not clear what Clifford was being questioned about, and other people arrested as part of Operation Yewtree have not been charged with criminal offenses.
Clifford said the allegations date back to 1977, but he declined to go into further detail after giving a brief statement outside the police station where he had been questioned and released on bail.
"Anyone who really knew me all those years ago and those who have known me since will have no doubt that I would never act in the way I have today been accused," he said, adding that the allegations were "very distressing" to him and his family.
Clifford has been a fixture on British television news programs and in British newspapers, which frequently seek his thoughts on how celebrities can come up with novel marketing strategies to maximize their appeal — and how celebrities dealing with marital breakdowns, drug problems, legal issues or fading popularity can rebound.
His clients include entertainment mogul Simon Cowell, former Harrod's owner Mohamed al-Fayed, and the late reality TV star Jade Goody, as well as dozens of ordinary people who found themselves at the vortex of the news and who sought to sell their stories to the press, which is a common, and lucrative, practice in Britain.
Clifford's easy sense of humor, elegant clothes and friendly manner made him a media mainstay. And he has been comfortable discussing the Savile inquiry with reporters, telling The Associated Press in October that many celebrities were worried they might become ensnared in the investigation.
"They're phoning me and saying, 'Max, I'm worried that I'm going to be implicated.' A lot of them can't remember what they did last week, never mind 30 or 40 years ago," he said.
Clifford did not answer calls placed to his mobile phone Thursday.
The Savile allegations have hugely embarrassed the BBC, which has been accused of failing to report on investigations into their late star's alleged crimes and instead broadcasting tributes to the entertainer, who hosted several popular children's shows.
Four other people have been arrested in the investigation of the alleged abuse. No one has been charged.
British media have identified the suspects as including comedian Freddie Starr and former glam rock star Gary Glitter.
Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.