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

Breen: "I believe the PSNI has actually increased the potential threat to me"

Suzanne Breen gave evidence in the witness box today (11 June) and defended her decision to refuse to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) investigation into the murder of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland.

Breen told Belfast High Court that the Real IRA was “more than capable” of killing her, her 14-year-old daughter and her partner if she passed on relevant information to the PSNI. The police want Breen to hand over interview notes and other material to detectives in charge of the inquiry into the Real IRA murder of the squaddies in March this year.

Her defence goes to the heart of press freedom in the UK. Breen is defiant principally because of the need to protect journalistic sources, albeit sources involved or connected with terrorism.
The wider media community are so concerned about the implications of the PSNI winning this case that several high profile journalists were in court today. They included John Ware of the BBC’s Panorama, Channel 4 News’ Chief Correspondent Alex Thompson and media commentator Roy Greenslade.

Breen came under sustained questioning by the Crown, who wanted to know if she had taken any extra security precautions at her home, had changed her routine or had spoken to the police about security measures. The line of questioning became Kafkaesque because, as Breen pointed out repeatedly, she will only be under a Real IRA death threat if she retreats from her current position and hands over her material. Which is something the Sunday Tribune correspondent insists she will not do.

Apart from giving a robust defence for the need for journalists to protect their sources, Breen stuck to her line that co-operation with the PSNI would put her and her family in the firing line. She said she was not prepared “to place my life at risk and that of my child and my partner”.

When asked if she was prepared to go into a witness protection-style scheme, Breen said: “Northern Ireland is a small place and republican organisations can find out information about anyone.”

Breen added that by publicly taking the case against her in the High Court “I believe the PSNI has actually increased the potential threat to me”.

Henry McDonald is Ireland correspondent for the Guardian and Observer. His most recent book is Gunsmoke And Mirrors: How Sinn Féin Dressed Up Defeat As Victory