THE LEVESON Inquiry refused to hear serious allegations against Mazher Mahmood.
The claims were made in a Press Gang statement which presented evidence
— that Mahmood committed perjury in some of the criminal cases he generated.
— lied about his connections to a notorious firm of private detectives
— employed a convicted criminal as a key member of his team.
The Leveson Inquiry wouldn’t accept the evidence because there wasn’t time to consider it properly.
Even so, the Inquiry was a bruising experience for Mahmood.
Decades of telling lies suddenly caught up with “Fake Sheik”.
When he told Leveson he left the Sunday Times in 1988 because of a “disagreement”, it wasn’t true.
He was about to be sacked.
And when he claimed his News of the World articles had secured 253 convictions, he was exposed again.
A Press Gang investigation forced him to concede lawyers could only find 94.
But it could have been much, much worse …
AFTER THE closure of the News of the World in July 2011, Mazher Mahmood enjoyed the protection and patronage of Rupert Murdoch.
While hundreds of people lost their jobs, Mahmood was kept on the payroll.
He was destined to join the planned Sun on Sunday.
But when Murdoch decided to delay the launch until the hacking scandal cooled down, Mahmood was assigned to the Sunday Times.
The paper’s editor was John Witherow.
This meant that the “Fake Sheik” was a Sunday Times reporter when he gave evidence to Leveson in December 2011.
When the Press Gang investigation concluded that Mahmood had lied about the number of convictions he’d secured at the News of the World, we wrote to John Witherow.
Initially, he didn’t answer.
It wasn’t until after Channel 4 News took an interest in the story that Witherow finally replied:
“We are indeed doing a thorough investigation into the number that Mazher supplied,” he told us.
“I will examine the results and decide what to do when I know the outcome.”
Channel 4 News didn’t pursue the story and Witherow never came back to us.
However, by that time Press Gang had submitted a statement to Leveson about Mahmood’s fake convictions.
The Inquiry asked Mahmood to respond.
His employers commissioned the law-firm Linklaters to carry out an independent investigation.
Their report has never been made public.
Instead, Mahmood was allowed to summarise it in a further statement to the Inquiry.
He said Linklaters “verified” only 94 of the 253 people he claimed had been convicted.
He then came up with three reasons to explain the discrepancy.
First, he claimed that he was counting the number of offences rather individual defendants.
Second, he included “over 140” illegal immigrants in the total who he claimed were deported.
But Linklaters wouldn’t accept these as criminal convictions.
“I apologise for my error in including these individuals …” Mahmood told the Inquiry.
Third, he included 13 people disciplined by their professional body.
“Again, I understand from Linklaters that such actions do not amount to prosecutions or convictions and so I apologise to the Inquiry …”
He insisted, though, that:
“I am personally confident that my work as a journalist has led to substantially more convictions than the 94 individuals …”
Press Gang submitted a second statement pointing out that the News of the World always talked of Mahmood’s score in terms of individuals.
For example, in March 1996, the paper reported that the conviction of a solicitor
“brings the total number of victims successfully prosecuted after being exposed by Mazher to a staggering EIGHTY in four years.”
This part of our statement was accepted — and can be found in the evidence section of the official record of the Leveson Inquiry.
(See the Notes for details.)
But Press Gang also submitted new, equally damaging allegations.
It was this new material which the Inquiry declined to accept.
One of its legal team told us the material:
“is not amenable to written evidence: it relates to matters which the Inquiry is not taking detailed evidence … and/or cannot now be fairly examined at this stage in the Inquiry’s proceedings.”
THE NEW material suggested Mahmood’s lie to Leveson wasn’t an isolated incident.
There were other occasions where it was also possible he’d lied in the witness-box.
Press Gang cited the case of the actor John Alford, a star of the TV series London’s Burning.
He was gaoled for nine months in 1999 after supplying cocaine to Mahmood during a “sting” operation.
At his appeal, the judgment noted that Mahmood:
“described himself … as an investigative reporter with 89 successful criminal prosecutions to his name.”
That figure could not possibly be true.
By that time, our assessment was just 28.
Mahmood had been inflating the figure to increase his credibility as a witness and strengthen the prosecution case.
In September 2012 Press Gang wrote to John Witherow.
We asked him to arrange for Linklaters to:
“carry out a survey of Mazher Mahmood’s witness statements in the many criminal cases where he has given evidence” because of concerns “that he may have committed perjury …”
Witherow did not reply.
The rest, of course, is history.
When the Sun on Sunday was launched in February 2012, Mahmood was its star reporter.
In July 2014 he was caught red-handed lying to the judge in the Tulisa Contostavlos trial.
(See The Sting in the Singer’s Tale for the full story.)
News UK — owners of the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday — announced a full investigation into the allegation that Mahmood had committed perjury.
This was nearly two years after we warned them Mahmood was potentially a serial perjuror …
BUT ALLEGATIONS of serial perjury weren’t the only revelation in the Press Gang statement.
We also returned to the question of Mahmood’s bodyguard “Jaws”.
“Jaws” is Mahmood’s second cousin Mahmood Quereshi who, until a serious accident in 2006, acted as his bodyguard.
He gets the nickname from his diamond-studded gold teeth.
In the first Press Gang statement, we pointed out that one of the villains in a Mahmood exposé in 1996 bore a remarkable similarity to “Jaws”.
In his response, Mahmood admits the villain is, indeed, his second cousin.
He says Quereshi was the source of the story — Mahmod exaggerated his role in the gang in order to protect him …
By the time of the second Press Gang statement we also pointed out there was a possibility that “Jaws” was, in fact, an active criminal during the period he was employed by Mahmood.
In 2005, during a libel action against the News of the World, lawyer David Price produced a list of convictions against Quereshi dating from a theft case at Bradford Crown Court to a case in Leeds in 1999.
In other words, when “Jaws” was acting as the source of one of Mahmood’s stories in 1996, his criminal career was still in progress.
Another of Mahmood’s paid informants, Florim Gashi, claims Quereshi had “been in prison a number of times … “
He also acted as an informant in many of Mahmood’s stories, including the alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham.
THERE WAS one final piece of information Leveson was not prepared to consider.
This involved Mahmood’s links with a firm of private detectives called Southern Investigations.
One of the partners was a former Metropolitan Police detective sergeant, Sid Fillery.
Fillery had retired and joined Southern Investigations, taking the place of Daniel Morgan, a private detective brutally murdered in 1987.
The other partner was Jonathan Rees, who was arrested several times on suspicion of being involved in the murder.
He was never convicted.
However, Rees was gaoled for 7 years in 2000 after he was caught planning a conspiracy with corrupt police detectives to plant drugs on an innocent woman to prove she was an unfit mother.
Fillery was convicted in 2003 of making fifteen indecent images of children.
His computer included photographs of two naked boys engaged in oral sex and another showing the anal penetration of a young girl.
Southern Investigations acted as brokers between corrupt police officers who wanted to sell sensitive information to newspapers, including the News of the World.
In his evidence to Leveson, Mahmood doesn’t name the firm but it appears to be Southern Investigations.
He told the Inquiry:
” … I stopped working with them at the end of 1992 or early 1993 …”
However, in our statement we told the Leveson Inquiry we had seen documents seized during anti-corruption inquiries which suggested this also wasn’t true.
These documents revealed that in 1999 Rees and Fillery carried out “confidential inquiries” into “illegal immigration” after receiving a “request” from “Maz Mahmood”.
The invoice for this work, submitted in July 1999, was for £1,488.72 — one of the largest the firm raised in that year.
Again, we told the Inquiry we had written to Sunday Times editor John Witherow and asked him to investigate.
He never replied.
For this article, we once again contacted Witherow — now editor of The Times.
He didn’t respond.
We also asked Mahmood for a comment.
There was no reply.
1 The Press Gang statements to Leveson were originally submitted by editor Paddy French in the name of Rebecca Television. In October all national media-related material from this site was transferred to Press Gang. The first statement is here: the second here.
2 Mazher Mahmood made four statements to the Leveson Inquiry. Two are relevant to this article: the first which includes his claim to have secured 253 successful prosecutions and the fourth where he admits that the figure is false.
3 See also the other articles in this series: Fake Convictions and The Sting In The Singer’s Tale.
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“A PRETTY DESPICABLE MAN”
PART TWO: ASSAULT ON THE BANK OF ENGLAND
THE “DARK ARTS” were practised on an industrial scale at the Daily Mirror when Piers Morgan was editor. An extraordinary example took place in 1998 when the paper ordered private eyes to break into the mortgage accounts of every member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. A Pretty Despicable Man continues with a revealing analysis of the paper’s cynical bank jobs…
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Tags: Andy Coulson, John Witherow, Jonathan Rees, Leveson Inquiry, Mazher Mahmood, News of the World, Paddy French, Press Gang, Sid Fillery, Sir John Stevens, Southern Investigations, Sunday Times, WPLongform