THE PANORAMA exposé of Mazher Mahmood revealed the methods the “fake sheik” used at the News of the World and the Sun on Sunday.
But he also used the same unscrupulous tactics during his two spells on the Sunday Times.
Mahmood was a reporter in the 1980s and re-joined the paper for more than a year after the closure of the News of the World in 2011.
One man who knows about Mahmood’s troubled career is John Witherow, the current editor of The Times.
Witherow worked in the Sunday Times newsroom in the 1980s when many of Mahmood’s stories had to be corrected.
He was also there when Mahmood was fired in 1989 for tampering with computer records.
But after the death of the News of the World — by which time Witherow was Sunday Times editor — he still decided to take him on.
And, of course, Mahmood was soon up to his old tricks.
Press Gang investigates a sordid tale of journalistic prostitution.
IN APRIL 2012 the Sunday Times carried a dramatic front page.
The headline — “100,000 women mutilated in UK”.
The paper claimed they’d been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM).
Reporters Mazher Mahmood and Eleanor Mills, the paper’s associate editor, said they had caught a doctor and a dentist:
“offering to circumcise girls as young as 10 or help to arrange for the procedure to be carried out.”
Female circumcision is illegal in the UK.
The detailed story of the undercover operation was carried on an inside double page spread.
A woman journalist, posing as a woman who wanted her nieces circumcised, went to see Dr Ali Mao-Aweys.
Dr Mao-Aweys operated a private clinic in Birmingham.
The paper recorded him saying:
“I have a doctor that will do [it].”
“He is here in Birmingham.”
He gave the undercover reporter the name of Birmingham dentist Omar Addow.
The reporter went to see the dentist.
Initially, according to the report, Addow was wary but eventually agreed to perform the operation:
“I’ll do it for you.”
“Okay, I’ll do it for you.”
“I need to organise very well … nobody should know [anything about] it — between you, me and Allah only.”
Earlier he had said he was opposed:
“It’s not allowed in this country,” he said.
“It’s really dangerous — you, everybody go to jail.”
THE PICTURE the “fake sheik” tried to stop Panorama showing in its November 12 programme. Judge Sir David Eady threw out an application that showing recent images would endanger him and his family.
“Myself, Omar, personally I am against the ritual circumcision of the female …”
The paper reported that he relaxed when the reporter mentioned Dr Mao-Aweys’ referral.
The reporter and the dentist then went to his nearby flat “to discuss the matter privately” where he agreed to carry out a limited form of the procedure.
The Sunday Times passed the evidence to the police.
Two weeks later Mazher Mahmood reported that the two men had been arrested.
He quoted West Midlands Detective Inspector Caroline Marsh:
“I am grateful to the Sunday Times for the information provided and we are currently investigating what we regard as very serious allegations.”
On the face of it, a fine piece of investigative work on a subject of national importance.
But the story soon began to unravel …
IT STARTED just a few months later, in September 2012, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to bring charges.
There was “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”
Harry Ireland, chief crown prosecutor for the West Midlands, was blunt:
“The main evidence in this case is from the undercover journalist or agent but she has consistently failed to sign her draft statement for the police despite being given every opportunity to do so over the past five months.”
“I also have concerns over discrepancies between her draft statement and the evidence from the covert recordings.”
“For example, at one stage, the covert recordings record the doctors refusing to help the woman with her request.”
“I am also troubled by the fact that the covert recordings disclose a time gap which is insufficiently accounted for when the undercover journalist or agent apparently went with one of the doctors from the surgery to his home.”
JOHN MOORE WITHEROW
NOW EDITOR of The Times, Witherow has done nothing to bring Mazher Mahmood to book — even though he’s probably known that the “fake sheik” has been a rogue reporter for more than twenty years.
“Unless there is a very compelling explanation for this, the covert evidence is very unlikely to be admissible in evidence.”
“That evidence has not been forthcoming.”
“A search of the suspects’ homes, computers and phones failed to provide any evidence that they were involved in any way in this illegal practice.”
“A financial investigation has also found no evidence of suspicious transactions which might then merit further investigation.”
Ireland did not explain why he described the woman as “journalist or agent” instead of just “journalist”.
Nor did he give any further details about the nature of the “time gap” which troubled him.
The Sunday Times told the Guardian:
“We stand by our investigation and contest the statement made by the CPS.”
There was no report of the CPS decision in the Sunday Times.
A FULLER version of the events leading up to the story didn’t emerge until a General Dental Council disciplinary hearing against Omar Addow in August 2013.
Only the Independent carried a report of the proceedings.
It described what happened when the undercover reporter went to the dentist’s surgery:
“When the reporter’s stomach apparently started rumbling, Mr Addow carried out ‘percussion’ and examined her abdomen, the hearing was told.”
“This led to him checking her breasts for abnormalities and performing a vaginal ‘exploration’ before inviting her back to his flat, it is claimed.”
“The journalist recorded the visit to the flat on a hidden “handbag-cam”, for which Mr [Mazher] Mahmood … supplied the batteries.”
“Soon after arriving, the journalist — described on the film as being 33 and of Ghanaian origin — disappears into the bedroom with Dr Addow for over an hour, the hearing was told.”
The Independent then quotes Tom Kark, QC who represented the General Dental Council:
“When he leaves the bedroom, he appears to be wearing a sarong.”
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The newspaper reports Kark as adding:
“It appears he and the journalist have sexual intercourse.”
“We may form the view that the journalist had gone to extra lengths to get her story”.
Addow told police:
“We did sex.”
Before the pair went into the bedroom, the dentist had insisted he was opposed to FGM.
The Independent notes:
“It was only after they had disappeared into a room for an hour that the dentist was recorded on the handbag-cam saying:
” ‘I will do it for you. Between you, me and Allah only’.”
The Sunday Times told the Independent:
“The journalist in question was a freelance engaged in a legitimate undercover investigation into female genital mutilation which is a matter of public interest.”
“She denies having had sexual intercourse or any other sexually intimate contact with Mr Addow.”
The Sunday Times did not report these proceedings.
The General Dental Council later found Addow guilty of conducting an intimate examination of the woman and of offering to perform FGM.
He was struck off.
The Sunday Times reported the decision.
It also included the comment that Addow:
“… claimed he and the female journalist had had sex at his home.”
THE SINGER’S case was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After decades of tolerance from the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, the judge in the case suddenly saw Mahmood in his true colours … a perjuror.
The report added:
“The journalist denies having sex with Addow.”
In May this year, the doctor who introduced Addow to the journalist was also struck off.
The Sunday Times reported that Dr Ali Mao-Aweys had been removed from the General Medical Register by a fitness-to-practice panel.
The paper did not report the panel’s comment about some of the undercover journalist’s recordings:
“The panel noted there are long silences in the recordings which have not been explained by either party.”
“The panel has not been made aware of what occurred during these silences although it was concerned by their length.”
PRESS GANG emailed Eleanor Mills, now Executive Editor of the Sunday Times.
Initially, she told us:
“The CPS decided the evidence wasn’t robust enough to prosecute because of some problems with the tape.”
“I was very disappointed as I think it is ridiculous to have a law in the books under which there has never been a prosecution.”
This was before the damning General Dental Council hearing where the prosecuting QC Tom Kark said the journalist had sex with Addow.
We asked why the Crown Prosecution Service described the woman involved in the sting as a “journalist or agent”.
Was she a journalist or wasn’t she?
We also asked if she was a long-standing member of Mahmood’s team.
We then put the key question:
“The central allegation hovering throughout this story is that you and Mahmood either encouraged, permitted or tolerated a woman working for you to prostitute herself in order to persuade the dentist to offer to carry out FGM.”
“Before she went into the bedroom at his flat, he was insisting he was opposed to the practice and would not do it.”
“After an hour, she and the dentist reappeared — Mr Addow wearing only a sarong — and he agreed to do it.”
Mills did not reply.
We asked her to forward our email to Mazher Mahmood.
He didn’t answer.
Eleanor Mills is president of the organisation Women in Journalism.
WE ALSO sent a copy of the email to John Witherow.
He’s now editor of The Times.
He didn’t reply.
Witherow should have known that Mazher Mahmood was a rogue reporter.
He worked alongside him in the Sunday Times newsroom back in the late 1980s.
The two men even shared a by-line on a prophetic story in March 1986.
They revealed that a group of Libyan pilots training in Britain had offered to form suicide squads to attack US bases …
Witherow was working for the paper when Mahmood resigned in 1989 shortly before he was to be sacked.
But he would have known there were problems with some of Mahmood’s stories long before then.
In March 1986 Mahmood posed as an Arab and tried to buy £45,000 worth of falcons from Jemima Parry-Jones of the Gloucestershire Falconry Centre with a view to illegally exporting them.
THE AUSTRALIAN tycoon has always had a soft spot for Mazher Mahmood and made sure he had a temporary berth on the Sunday Times after the closure of the News of the World.
In the article, Mahmood said that, before the deal went ahead:
“Parry Jones changed her mind and called in customs officers.”
In April the paper was forced to carry a letter from an indignant Parry-Jones.
She made it clear that she had told Mahmood that a licence was needed to take the birds out of the country — and offered to help obtain one.
“When it became apparent to me that the man posing as an Arab purchaser — your journalist — was seriously interested in purchasing birds which he might export illegally, I notified the Department of the Environment, Wildlife Division, and made arrangements for the Customs and Excise to be present at the second meeting to apprehend the man.”
“The suggestion that I only called in the authorities because I was aware that the man was a Sunday Times reporter is untrue.”
“It was only when the man made a second appointment that I had worthwhile information to give to the authorities.”
In 1988 the paper had to issue corrections to other stories Mahmood had written.
One concerned an article about a Birmingham travel agent accused of money-laundering — the photograph illustrating the piece was of an entirely innocent man.
In another article Mahmood claimed that Pakistan wanted Britain to return former brigadier Usman Khalid because he was suspected of involvement in the 1985 air crash that killed the country’s President, General Zia.
The correction made it clear Pakistan had asked for no such thing — and the paper accepted Usman Khalid’s assurance that he was not involved in the crash.
The most serious correction followed a story alleging that the head of a fee-paying school near Shrewsbury was cruel to pupils.
The piece said police were investigating and quoted teachers and pupils who supported the allegations against Edward Pease-Watkin of Packwood Haugh School.
The piece provoked a storm of protest — and generated a significant correction the following Sunday.
The chairman of the governors said the piece “outraged governors, parents and ex-parents, staff, pupils and ex-pupils, the school doctor and the vicar”.
He said the police investigation was complete — and had found no evidence to support the allegations which had been made by a sacked teacher.
“The staff, at an informal gathering on May 8 [the day the article appeared] expressed unanimous support for the headmaster and school.”
A letter from one of the teachers quoted in the article insisted he talked to Mahmood “to discourage him from pursuing allegations which were malicious.”
Another letter, signed by 58 pupils said “your article was an injustice.”
“Mr Pease-Watkin has all that is good in a headmaster, providing strong leadership and fairness in academic activities, and is caring and courteous at all times.”
“He has a fantastic track record of achievement … and is a source of great inspiration to us all.”
We also wrote to John Witherow asking him to comment on these stories.
He didn’t reply …
MAZHER MAHMOOD is not the first “rogue journalist” John Witherow employed during the eighteen years he spent editing the Sunday Times.
In July 2003 the respected investigative journalist David Connett was offered a seniorpost on the celebrated Insight team.
But not as a conventional member of staff with a contract.
Instead, he was to be a highly-paid freelance who would carry out the “dark arts” of news-gathering for the team.
As former Insight reporter Edin Hamzic recorded in an email:
” … it was better for the team to keep him off the books in case we got rumbled.”
He added that the arrangement meant “we could have a get-out clause in case we got caught.”
Connett was not listed on the paper’s internal phone directory and did not have a company email address.
The reporter said that Insight editor Dean Nelson, a Christian, had misgivings about using the “dark arts”:
“He didn’t want to get involved in all the black arts and deal in stolen property etc.”
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“The downside of this arrangement was that if anything ever went wrong the brown smelly stuff would arrive in my lap.”
The arrangement lasted until July 2005 when editor John Witherow decided to axe the Insight department as a separate department.
When the paper treated Connett as a freelance with few employment rights, he went to an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal.
In April 2006, the tribunal ruled that Connett was more than just a casual employee — and the Sunday Times agreed to pay him £30,000.
Even though all of this material was on the public record — and most of it was also included in Nick Davies’ 2008 book Flat Earth News — none of it was explored by the Leveson Inquiry …
No details have ever been provided either by Connett or the Sunday Times as to exactly what “dark arts” he used — or if any of them were illegal.
Neither Connett or Nelson were asked to give evidence before Lord Leveson.
Nor, as far as Press Gang can tell, has any reporter on the Sunday Times ever been questioned by the various police investigations into illegal news-gathering …
BY THE time Panorama broadcast it’s twice-delayed programme on Mazher Mahmood, John Witherow had achieved his ambition.
He was editor of The Times, rewarded by Rupert Murdoch for decades of loyal service.
And he’s still at it.
The Times was silent during the dramatic run-up to the programme when lawyers acting for Mahmood failed to secure an injunction preventing recent images of the “Fake Sheik” being shown.
It was silent when the Attorney General asked the BBC to delay the programme because Mahmood might face charges of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Nor did the paper — which regards itself as the UK’s paper of record — carry a full report on the programme itself.
MET COMMISSIONER Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. More than three months after a judge accused Mazher Mahmood of lying in the Tulisa Contostavlos cocaine case, the Met has still to arrest the reporter on suspicion of committing perjury. Compare that to the 12 days it took West Midlands police to arrest the two medics in the FGM case after Mahmood presented them with his dodgy evidence… The Met also ignored a letter from Press Gang in 2012 asking for Mahmood to be investigated for perjury in other criminal cases.
Instead it buried two sentences in another story about BBC proposals to hive Panorama off to the independent sector.
Those two sentences read in full:
“In a Panorama episode last night, postponed from Monday, Steve Grayson, a former associate of Mazher Mahmood, an investigative reporter known as the “Fake Sheikh” [sic — Mahmood always called himself the “Fake Sheik”], alleged that some of Mr Mahmood’s stories were obtained by entrapment.”
“Mr Mahmood, who has worked for the News of the World, The Sun and The Sunday Times, has denied acting improperly and described allegations in the programme as ‘unsustainable and wrong’.”
LAST NIGHT Press Gang finally clarified the exact nature of the police investigation into Mazher Mahmood.
In a statement the Met told us its inquiry into Mahmood — known as Operation Silverhawk — was concerned only with the Tulisa Contostavlos trial.
The investigation, by the Special Enquiry Team of the Specialist Crime and Operations division, is not looking at any other cases:
” … at this stage the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] has not been asked to investigate any further matters.”
Asked if Mahmood had been questioned, the spokesperson added:
“We do not discuss the identity of people interviewed under caution.”
Yesterday the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that three planned criminal trials with Mahmood as a key witness had been abandoned.
The CPS also identified a further historical 25 cases where criminal convictions secured as a result of evidence provided by Mahmood were open to challenge.
However, the Met statement makes it clear that Mahmood’s role is not being investigated in any of these cases.
In November 2012 we wrote to the Met to ask them to investigate our allegation of serial perjury by Mahmood in many of the criminal cases he gave evidence in.
The Met acknowledged the letter but never responded.
The Press Gang investigation into Mazher Mahmood continues …
Published: 22 November 2014
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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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