THE COLLAPSE of the Tulisa Contostavlos trial in July is the latest scandal to hit Rupert Murdoch’s prize investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood.
The case against the singer-turned-entertainer was thrown out when the judge said Mahmood — also known as the “Fake Sheik” — lied when he gave evidence to the court.
Now the Metropolitan Police is considering possible perjury charges against the Sun on Sunday reporter.
Lies have been a staple part of Mahmood’s amoral newspaper career — and Press Gang has been at the heart of exposing many of them.
Here we republish an article which first appeared in April 2012.
It tells the story of an unscrupulous journalist who will do anything — including committing perjury in the witness box — to get ahead.
ONE OF the few people to come out of the News of the World hacking scandal with his reputation intact was Investigations Editor Mazher Mahmood.
After the gaoling of royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private eye Glenn Mulcaire in 2007, Mahmood was held up as a beacon of the real News of the World.
In 2008 the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins published Confessions of a Fake Sheik in which Mahmood claimed:
“To date I have been responsible for more than 230 successful criminal prosecutions.”
When he made a statement for the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 the figure has risen to 253.
But when Press Gang challenged Mahmood to provide the evidence to substantiate the claim his employers News International refused to provide a list.
We carried out our own investigaton and went through every article Mazher Mahmood had written for the News of the World.
There was only evidence to support 70.
And we found evidence Mazher Mahmood may have protected a relative who was involved in a fake passport racket …
WHEN FORMER News of the World Investigations Editor Mazher Mahmood appeared before Lord Leveson in December 2011, he was allowed a special concession.
Leveson ordered that the television cameras be turned off.
“For good reason,” he said, “this evidence is being heard in circumstances that, although the witness’ account will be given orally, it will not be screened visually … to the public.”
“I make that order having regard to all the circumstances of the case.”
Leveson never explained what the “good reason” was but it’s likely the judge accepted Mahmood’s claim that showing his face would endanger his life.
Five years earlier, however, another judge had come to a different conclusion.
It happened as a result of a Mazher Mahmood undercover sting involving the MP George Galloway.
Posing as the Fake Sheik, Mahmood had dinner with Galloway at the Dorchester Hotel in London in March 2006.
Galloway believes Mahmood was trying to entice him into illegally accepting campaign contributions from foreign donors.
“After dessert”, Mahmood says in his book Confessions of a Fake Sheik, “Galloway enjoyed a coffee and posed for a picture with myself and my minder Jaws …”
Jaws — a giant of a man with a “full deck of gold teeth with diamonds embedded” — was actually Mahmood Qureshi, Mazher Mahmood’s second cousin.
Galloway later remembered a section about Mazher Mahmood in Andrew Marr’s book My Trade which contained a description of Jaws.
Galloway went public — and threatened to publish phototgraphs of Mazher Mahmood on his Respect Party website.
The News of the World were awarded a temporary injunction preventing the posting of the images.
But the following day Judge Mitting decided to lift the injunction.
The judge was not impressed by the argument that publication of Mahmood’s image might be useful to targets out for revenge.
“For photographs of Mr Mahmood to be of any use to such people they would have to have a whole package of further information,” the judge noted, “not least information as to his whereabouts and habits.”
“Armed with such information, the photographs might be of some assistance, but one would have expected anybody who had got that information also to have been able to obtain at a mimimum a description — more likely a photograph — of Mr Mahmood to permit them to inflict whatever harm it was that they might have in mind.”
Judge Mitting concluded:
“I am satisfied that the true purpose of this application is not protection of Mr Mahmood’s life and physical integrity but the protection of his earning capacity and position as an investigative journalist and his utility to his employers in that respect.”
LORD LEVESON’S decision to switch off the cameras inevitably increased the mystique surrounding one of Rupert Murdoch’s star reporters — if his life was under threat, it suggested his journalism must be important.
In his sworn statement to the Inquiry, Mahmood claimed his journalism at the News of the World had led to the successful prosecution of 253 people.
When he gave oral evidence in December 2012, he said this figure was already old hat.
“It’s incorrect, actually,” he said on oath.
“The total has gone up to 261, and as we sit here at the moment, at Southwark Crown Court, two more women are being sentenced as a result of my work.”
So he was claiming a grand total of 263 convictions.
When Press Gang examined the News of the World for the period Mazher Mahmood worked there, we could only find evidence of 70 convictions (see the Appendix for the full list).
In his statement to the Leveson Inquiry Mahmood said:
“… ethics should be of paramount importance in all fields of journalism because in my view a large part of investigative journalism is to expose moral-wrongdoing … ”
The Leveson Inquiry was to examine Mahmood’s own moral compass in some detail.
When he gave evidence to the Inquiry in December last year, Mahmood was asked by barrister David Barr about the reasons why he left the Sunday Times back in 1988.
“Is it right that you left the Sunday Times under something of a cloud …?”
“We had a disagreement,” replied Mahmood, “Correct.”
This interpretation of the crisis that unfolded at the Sunday Times in December 1988 angered Roy Greenslade who had been the managing editor of the paper at the time.
He compiled a witness statement and a series of exhibits and submitted them to the Leveson team.
Greenslade told how, in 1988, he had received a complaint from a police officer about a story Mazher Mahmood had written the previous week.
The story was about a chief inspector in Plymouth who had been convicted of drink driving after an accident.
Mahmood wrote that the officer had been demoted to the rank of constable.
In fact, the demotion was only to inspector.
The Sunday Times apologised for the error the following week.
When he was challenged about the mistake, Mahmood claimed that it was the fault of the Devon News Agency which had sent a report of the court case to the Sunday Times.
The news agency were contacted — they insisted their original version had the correct demotion.
The Sunday Times computer room was asked to retrieve the version the agency had sent.
This showed the demotion was to constable.
But in the course of this inquiry, a computer operator mentioned that Mazher Mahmood had recently visited the room.
A more detailed investigation began.
It uncovered an earlier version of the news agency story — the demotion to inspector was correctly reported.
Mahmood admitted going to the computer room but denied tampering with the computer record.
A meeting of senior executives chaired by editor Andrew Neil took place.
It was decided he would be fired.
After the meeting, Greenslade found a letter of resignation from Mahmood on his desk.
“Because of the nature of my work,” Mahmood wrote, “I am only able to operate with the absolute support and trust of my senior colleagues and lawyers, but now that my honesty and integrity is in question, I feel there is no longer a place on the paper.”
After Greenslade’s devastating witness statement, Lord Leveson called Mahmood back before him in January 2013.
David Barr now questioned Mahmood again:
“Tampering with the computer file in order to pass the mistake from yourself to the Devon News Agency was wrong, wasn’t it”
“Absolutely,” admitted Mahmood.
“Look, I was a young reporter,” he added, “and I’d had a series of run-ins with Mr Greenslade while at the paper, and, you know, I’d made a mistake.”
“I acknowledge that, and rather than incur the wrath of an executive I didn’t get on with, I foolishly thought the best way would be to cover my mistake.”
“It was the wrong thing to do, and I resigned.”
Roy Greenslade does not remember having a bad working relationship with Mahmood.
WHEN THE News of the World closed in July 2011, Mahmood was without a paper for a couple of weeks.
But at the end of August he re-joined the Sunday Times.
Editor John Witherow was asked if he had any concerns about taking on the man who had been caught lying to the paper in 1988.
“Clearly, we checked him out very carefully and needed reassurances that he was not involved in any way with the phone hacking, which he assured us he wasn’t, and independently we were assured he wasn’t.”
“As far as I am aware, the police have no interest in him, so that was very important before we took him on.”
Witherow was happy to have a man of Mahmood’s undercover skills on his staff:
“He has an exemplary record on these sorts of stories.”
“He has instigated, I think, about 250 prosecutions of people, for exposing criminality.”
“Yes, we were concerned but I think he is a remarkable operator in that form of journalism.”
We asked Witherow if he had checked to see if Mazher Mahmood’s claims about the number of convictions stacked up.
He didn’t reply.
WHEN MAZHER Mahmood started work at the News of the World in December 1991, he was one of many investigative reporters on the paper.
Under editor Patsy Chapman, he was just another member of the team.
When Piers Morgan took over in January 1994, it’s clear that he didn’t think much of Mahmood.
Readers of his 2005 book The Insider will not find the name Mazher Mahmood in the index.
The feeling was mutual — there’s no mention of Piers Morgan in the index of Mahmood’s 2008 Confessions of a Fake Sheik.
It was not until Phil Hall took over from Morgan in August 1995 that Mahmood’s star began to rise.
Hall made him Investigations Editor and, in March 1996, the paper made a major claim for the success of Mahmood’s articles.
The piece followed the conviction of a solicitor gaoled for six months for living off immoral earnings after an undercover operation.
The conviction, claimed the News of the World, “brings the total of villains successfully prosecuted after being exposed in our pages by Mazher to a staggering EIGHTY in four years.”
But, up to that point, the Press Gang analysis of the News of the World had only carried stories about 13 named people who’d been convicted.
With the mention of a further five unnamed people, the maximum number of successful prosecutions was 18.
IN THE course of our research, we found an extraordinary story which Mazher Mahmood had published in September 1996.
On the face of it, it was a typical Mahmood operation: he infiltrated a gang run by a Bradford hairdresser who were running a fake passport racket.
The hairdresser was buying genuine passports from British Asians and then amending them so that illegal immigrants could enter the country.
Mahmood posed as one of these buyers and successfully entered the UK via a Eurostar train from Paris.
What made this article unusual was that the man buying the genuine passports was “a local thug called Mehmood, known as Jaws because he has gold teeth studded with diamonds.”
Although the article calls him “Mehmood” and doesn’t give his last name, the description is uncannily similar to the one Mazher Mahmood gives for the Jaws that later became his bodyguard.
This undercover operation could easily have netted three successful criminal prosecutions for Mahmood — yet there is no evidence that he went to the police.
In our recorded delivery letter sent to Mazher Mahmood in March 2012, we asked him if the Jaws in the article was the man who became his bodyguard.
He didn’t reply.
Jaws is one of the key supporting actors in the Mazher Mahmood story.
Until he was paralysed in a car crash in 2006, he had been Mahmood’s bodyguard for several years.
In his book Confessions of a Fake Sheik, published in 2008, Mahmood says: “Jaws was huge, and spent every day at the gym, so was a powerful looking man as well.”
“He was from Bradford and had spent his early adult life committing a number of petty crimes in and around the area.”
“He’d gone to see a fortune teller who told him that a long-lost relative would change his life, so he flew out to Pakistan and spent all his money trying to find a relative who’d do that, speaking in his Yorkshire accent as he went; but found no one to help so returned home”.
“He saw my name in the paper and called me, and I did — change his life, that is.”
“He joined me, working as my bodyguard, and with his size and those teeth he was an unforgettable sight.”
“He was a great man to have standing next to you, intimidating and forceful when needed.”
But three years earlier Jaws, alias Mahmood Qureshi, had given a different version of their relationship.
He was appearing in a libel action brought by one of the gang Mazher Mahmood had accused of trying to kidnap Victoria Beckham.
Jaws had been part of the undercover team infiltrating the so-called gang.
He was accused of inciting gang members.
While he was on the stand, in April 2005, Jaws changed his evidence.
At first, he’d insisted that he hadn’t been asked by Mazher Mahmood to “initiate conversation about the kidnap”.
But later he admitted that Mazher Mahmood had asked him to do so.
David Price, acting for the gang member, seized on the change of evidence.
He accused Jaws of trying to protect Mahmood in his earlier testimony — claiming that Mahmood had given Jaws “a chance in life” after a life of crime with employment at the News of the World.
“You are trying to protect your cousin,” said Price, “because he gave you a chance in life”.
“How did he give me a chance? He did not give me a chance. How?”
Price then went through Jaws’ criminal career — stretching back to 1982 before finally ending in 1999.
“You owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Mahmood and that explains why you lied to the court this morning, that’s what I’m suggesting. Do you want to comment on that?”
“No, I do not want to comment, there’s no comment on that,” replied Qureshi.
“I did not lie. I got it wrong.”
Later, Jaws explained that his entire earnings from his involvement in various News of the World stories was “less than £10,000 … perhaps near £5,000.”
BY THE time Rebekah Brooks took over the editorship in May 2000, the News of the World was claiming 103 convictions for Mazher Mahmood’s investigations.
This is at odds with the Press Gang analysis at that point: 32 named individuals with another nine who were unnamed.
By the time she left to edit The Sun in January 2003, the News of the World claimed Mazher Mahmood’s convictions stood at 119 compared with our tally of 32 named defendants with a further nine unnamed.
Brooks was replaced by Andy Coulson who lasted four years until he resigned in January 2007 after the paper’s Royal Correspondent Clive Goodman was gaoled for hacking royal phones.
Under his leadership, Mazher Mahmood’s claimed convictions had jumped to 145 but the Press Gang version only showed 62 defendants successfully prosecuted (17 of them unnamed).
Colin Myler replaced Coulson — who went on to become David Cameron’s Director of Communications.
Myler was responsible for the biggest single leap in the claimant count of any News of the World editor — in April 2007 Mazher Mahmood’s total suddenly rocketed to 204 convictions.
This figure arrived out of the blue — the paper had carried reports of only two convictions since the paper’s previous claim of 145.
One possible explanation for the jump was a sting operation which Mazher Mahmood organised in May 2006 to catch illegal immigrants.
Pretending that he wanted people to work, he collected 70 people — and had them driven to the Colnbrook Detention Centre near Heathrow.
Police had already been tipped off and 66 were arrested and detained.
Press Gang asked the Home Office what happened to these people.
They were not able to tell us.
There is no doubt that they could all have been prosecuted for staying in Britain illegally.
But, if that is the case, then it is surprising that the News of the World didn’t report the fact.
There is another way of dealing with illegal immigrants — “administrative removal”.
This is where the immigrant agrees to go back home voluntarily.
This system is fast and cheap and avoids the courts.
Press Gang did not include these people — we considered that, if they had been prosecuted, the News of the World would have reported the fact.
By the time the paper closed in July 2011 it was claiming more than 250 successful criminal prosecutions.
Press Gang could find evidence of only 70 — with 18 of those unnamed.
APPENDIX: The Successful Criminal Proesecutions of Mazher Mahmood
THE METHODOLOGY followed in preparing the following list of convictions was that all articles written by or featuring Mazher Mahmood were examined.
Between December 1991 and December 1995, physical copies of the News of the World were viewed on microfilm.
From January 1996 to July 2011, all News of the World articles on the Newsbank electronic database were analysed.
The research was carried out by Chris Nichols and Paddy French and took place at the British Library, Colindale, London.
The names of 52 individuals reported to have been convicted (including one where the name was with-held to protect a victim) are listed.
18 convictions where the names are not given are identified separately.
The date of the article where the conviction is reported, if available, is given.
In all cases, the article refers to the conviction and not the original exposé.
1991 No convictions reported.
1992 No convictions reported.
1993 6 convictions reported:
1994 No convictions reported.
1995 9 convictions reported (including 5 unnamed):
1996 4 convictions reported:
1997 7 convictions reported (including 3 unnamed):
1998 2 convictions reported:
1999 4 convictions reported:
2000 7 convictions were reported:
2001 No convictions reported.
2002 3 convictions reported (including I unnamed):
2003 5 convictions reported:
2004 2 convictions reported:
2005 3 convictions reported:
2006 11 convictions reported (including 9 unnamed):
2007 3 convictions reported:
2008 2 convictions reported:
2009 No convictions reported.
2010 2 convictions reported:
2011 No convictions reported.
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