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.

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