By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's best-known publicist, Max Clifford, pleaded not guilty in a London court on Tuesday to 11 counts of indecent assault against seven girls dating back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Often described as a public relations "guru" for his ability to generate and control press coverage, Clifford is a household name in Britain whose celebrity clients have included TV music mogul Simon Cowell and U.S. boxer Muhammad Ali.
The 70-year-old was arrested in December as part of a police investigation into the crimes of Jimmy Savile, a TV star of the 1970s and 80s who was exposed after his death in 2011 as a prolific predatory child sex abuser, causing a huge scandal.
Clifford's case is unconnected to Savile but is part of the same police operation because the allegations against him emerged as a result of the media coverage of Savile's crimes.
"All I know is, up until the Jimmy Savile situation no one said anything about me at all," Clifford told reporters just outside the courtroom.
The hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court was Clifford's first court appearance.
Wearing a blue jacket, white shirt and grey trousers, the white-haired Clifford spoke only to confirm his name and address and to enter his pleas of not guilty.
The 11 counts relate to seven different alleged victims who were aged between 15 and 19 at the time of the offences, which are alleged to have taken place between 1966 and 1985.
Clifford told reporters after the hearing that the allegations against him were untrue and since his arrest he had been "in the dark" as to the identity of the women making the accusations.
"This is a nightmare for myself and my family and it has been since December when I was arrested in a very public way. What I've got to do now is prove that these allegations are totally without foundation as I know them to be," he said.
Judge Howard Riddle granted Clifford conditional bail and sent his case for trial at a higher court, Southwark Crown Court, where his first appearance is scheduled for June 12.
Other celebrities arrested in the Savile probe, codenamed Operation Yewtree, include glam-rock singer Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr and children's TV presenter Rolf Harris, who all deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged.
Clifford is best-known in Britain for selling so-called "kiss-and-tell" stories about the rich and famous to scandal-hungry tabloid newspapers.
In a section entitled "Got a news story?", the website of his company, Max Clifford Associates, promises to negotiate the highest price possible for clients' stories.
"Our unique relationship with newspaper editors and key players in the media has been built and nurtured by Max over many years, ensuring that we as a company can broker your story for the highest possible price whilst retaining ultimate control," the website says.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)