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British celebrity PR guru jailed for 8 years for sex assaults

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's best-known celebrity publicist was jailed for eight years on Friday for indecently assaulting teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s, the first conviction from an inquiry into sex abuse triggered by revelations that the late BBC TV presenter Jimmy Savile had been a prolific sex offender over decades.

Max Clifford, 71, whose clients have included TV music mogul Simon Cowell and U.S. boxer Muhammad Ali, was found guilty on eight counts of indecently assaulting four girls aged 14 to 19 between 1977 and 1984.

He was cleared on two charges and a jury couldn't reach a verdict on an 11th charge dating back to 1966.

Judge Anthony Leonard at London's Southwark Crown Court imposed consecutive jail terms on Clifford due to the severity of the cases, which amounted to a total of eight years imprisonment of which Clifford is expected to serve half.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said the sentence reflected the severity of the crimes and praised Clifford's victims for coming forward.

"I hope this provides other victims with the courage and confidence to come forward and report abuse that may have happened to them, no matter who is alleged to have carried out the abuse or when," Saunders said in a statement.

Clifford was arrested in December 2012 as part of the Operation Yewtree police investigation into historic sexual assault.

During the trial, the prosecution portrayed Clifford as a master of intimidation and manipulation who used his power and celebrity contacts to prey on girls seeking a career in showbusiness.

Clifford had denied all charges, saying the allegations were "utterly repulsive" lies by fantasists and opportunists.

Police have arrested 17 men as part of the Yewtree investigation with four charged. One of these, a BBC driver, killed himself before his trial while court action is proceeding against the other two: DJ Dave Lee Travis and Australian entertainer Rolf Harris.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Stephen Addison)

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