Fake Sheikh recalled to Leveson

Investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood was recalled to the Leveson Inquiry today and quizzed over the reasons for his 1989 departure from the Sunday Times.

Mahmood, also known as the Fake Sheikh for the disguise he wears while investigating, told the Inquiry in December that he and then managing editor (news) Roy Greenslade had “had a disagreement”.

In a blog post written after Mahmood’s first appearance at the Inquiry, Greenslade wrote that Mahmood had “falsely blamed the news agency and then tried to back up his version of events by entering the room containing the main frame computer in order to alter the original copy.”

Having been found out, Greenslade wrote, Mahmood “rightly understood that he would have been dismissed” and so wrote a letter of resignation.

Mahmood, who returned to the Sunday Times last autumn after the News of the World closed in July 2011, regretfully admitted today that he “foolishly” tried to blame the news agency for his mistake.

He added later that a recent claim made by former Sunday Times news editor Michael Williams that Mahmood had offered a financial bribe to staff in the newspaper computer room to falsify his copy was “completely untrue”.

Mahmood told the Inquiry that Greenslade has since been “very critical” of his investigations: “Ever since he has displayed obsessive hostility towards me. There were run-ins over several stories.”

Tuning into the Inquiry, Greenslade tweeted:

Grilled by Lord Justice Leveson and counsel David Barr on the reliability of his sources, Mahmood said: “I’ve had front-page splashes from crack addicts, prostitutes, all sorts of sources”, adding that “one crack addict stole my tape recorder.”

A prosecution arising from Mahmood’s 2002 News of the World splash claiming there was a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham was dropped when prosecution lawyers decided that Florim Gashi, the key witness (one of Mahmood’s sources), was unreliable.

Also appearing this morning was RMT union leader Bob Crow, who claimed his union had been a victim of “victimisation”. He described being doorstepped by reporters and photographers from the Sun, who said to him: “What’s it like not to get to go to work? You stopped people going to work this week so get a taste of your own medicine.”

He was also asked about a Mail on Sunday story from 2003 showing that he had got a scooter to work owing to tube failures. The Inquiry was told that the registration identity of the scooter was blagged from the DVLA and then passed on to private investigator Steve Whittamore, who passed it on to the paper.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Public interest overriding factor, "Fake Sheikh" tells Leveson Inquiry

Undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood has told the Leveson Inquiry said public interest was the “overriding” factor for his 500-plus stories exposing criminality or wrongdoing.

“Exposing criminality gave me great satisfaction,” Mahmood said of his work. “I’m proud to have jailed paedophiles, arms dealers and drug dealers.”

In his 30-year career, 20 of which were spent as an undercover reporter at the now-defunct News of the World, Mahmood says he did at times cross the lines into illegality. He admitted once purchasing child pornography, but added that his actions led to the conviction of an offender and that the ends justified the means.

Mahmood claimed those holding public office should be open to scrutiny. “I don’t think I’d vote for my MP if i knew he was having an affair,” he said. When Lord Justice Leveson asked him if this view extended to celebrities, Mahmood said those “cashing in” on happy family life while engaged in extra marital affairs deserved to be exposed for their “hypocrisy”.

Mahmood repeated that there was a “hypocrisy justification” for exposing those who portray themselves publicly as “wholesome characters”, citing a story he wrote exposing two models working as prostitutes and selling drugs.

Mahmood repeatedly denied using methods of entrapment to expose crime, calling the “myth” about the use of such methods “annoying”. He said his subjects were already “predisposed to committing a crime”, and that he and his team provide the environment for the target to do so.

“I don’t want to go into our modus operandi,” he said, “but our methods have been tested time and time again in the courts.”

He added that he never commissioned private detectives to work for him.

Mahmood denied any knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World, saying he was only made aware after the arrest of the paper’s Royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2006. “Rumours were about,” he said, “but there was no firm evidence.” He added that “all fingers were pointing to the newsdesk.”

Mahmood, known as the “Fake Sheikh” for the disguise he has worn when exposing criminals, said that his work has led to 261 criminal prosecutions.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.