A Tale of the Fake Sheikh and Two Attorney Generals: Limited Police Inquiries and Damage Limitation
Yesterday [December 3rd 2014], the CPS announced it has dropped three cases and is re-investigating another 25 after a BBC Panorama documentary detailed the potentially questionable ways one of News UK’s most senior and prolific reporters, Mazher Mahmood, obtained his stories using his famous Fake Sheikh identity.
The night before, at the second Leveson memorial lecture delivered by Tom Watson, the BBC reporter John Sweeney, who presented the Panorama documentary, revealed that the current Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, intervened not once but twice to try to get his Fake Sheikh documentary stopped.
This is unprecedented. Normally, the Attorney General can only intervene when charges have been brought and the Contempt of Court Act locks in.
The first question therefore is: who put pressure on the Attorney General to intervene in a BBC documentary, which was delayed twice under legal pressures? Was it the CPS? The Police? Mahmood’s lawyers at Kingsley Napley? Or News UK? Or a combination of those above?
Persistent Questions about Mahmood and Operation Canopus
The second question relates to an investigation of Mahmood’s story gathering talents over a decade ago. His techniques had been questioned by courts well before the collapse of the trial against Tulisa Contostavlos earlier this year.
In 1999, during the trial of Lord Hardwicke, the jury were so shocked about the sting set up by Mahmood, that they wrote a note to the judge, Timothy Pontius: “Had we been allowed to take the extreme provocation into account we would undoubtedly have reached a different verdict,” they said.
The judge gave a suspended sentence and said to Hardwicke:
“Were it not for that elaborate sting you would not, I accept, have committed these particular offences…. Journalists in general, and those involved in this case in particular, should carefully examine and consider their approach to investigations where it involves no police participation, or indeed until after the trap has been sprung and the story reported in the press.”
A year later another Fake Sheikh sting on Rhodri Giggs (brother of the famous footballer) ended in a not guilty verdict, and the judge suggested the prosecutors should be investigating Mahmood instead, for supplying drugs.
In June 2003, one of the biggest Fake Sheikh stories, about the plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham, collapsed. Judge Simon Smith, in a hearing at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court, said he was referring the News of the World to the Attorney General after defence lawyers claimed it had shown “complete contempt for the administration of justice”. The judge responded:
“ I am minded to refer the whole of this matter to the Attorney General to consider the temptations which money being offered in return for stories, in particular about celebrities, gives rise to and the way in which newspaper investigations may have a detrimental effect on ultimate court proceeding.”
In September 2003 a former associate of Mahmood’s, Florim Gashi, who had been involved in the collapsed Beckham kidnap trial, was alleging all kinds of wrong doing in the various stings he’d been involved in. This prompted an initial police inquiry into Mahmood, Operation Canopus which lasted until September 2005.
Silent Shadow and Lord Goldsmith
So between 2003 and 2005, the News of the World knew that Mazher Mahmood’s stories had been referred to the Attorney General.
Yet, in November 2003, Mazher Mahmood claims in his autobiography, he was invited to drinks with the then Met Commissioner, Lord Stevens, and Andy Coulson, then News of the World editor.
This was around the time one of Mahmood’s most headlined scoops, the alleged attempted kidnap of Victoria Beckham, collapsed.
Thanks to disclosures at the Leveson Inquiry we now know that the attorney general from 2002-2007, Lord Goldsmith, was under surveillance by a former police officer, Derek Webb.
Webb was employed so regularly by the News of the World they got him an NUJ card. He was known as silent shadow.
Webb was following Lord Goldsmith regularly in late 2004 and early 2005 invoicing the News of World £2,250 for his silent shadow activities. He was only one of several private detectives working for the Sunday tabloid at the time,
So the second question is:
Why was the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith under surveillance by News of the World in late 2004 and early 2005? Who was he working for? Did the paper’s top reporter Mazher Mahmood know?
Previous email evidence has shown that Mazher Mahmood initiated the tasking of Webb to tail Tom Watson over false allegations of an affair when he was on the DCMS committee.
Mahmood’s photographer, Bradley Page, was one of the people following Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook and his wife Jacqui Hames in 2002, when Cook was about to appear on Crimewatch to ask for help on the Daniel Morgan murder inquiry.
Around the same time Webb was following the then New Labour secretary Charles Clarke on another false rumour of an affair with his special adviser, Hannah Pawlby, whose mobile was also extensively hacked by Glenn Mulcaire.
And it should not be forgotten that Mulcaire was employed as the dedicated phone hacker for the special investigations unit that Rebekah Brooks set up when becoming editor of News of the World, which featured Mazher Mahmood, under the control of another convicted phone hacker, Greg Miskiw.
That senior politicians, law officers, and police officers, were under intense surveillance and hacking by News of the World is disturbing enough. But to what extent were they investigating the people who were investigating them?
Canopus was re-opened, and Mahmood was interviewed on September 6 2005 but no further action was taken.
At the same time the Counter Terrorism Unit was involved in the Mahmood investigation, it also began to look at allegations of phone hacking at News of the World – Operation Caryatid, which led to the convictions of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, and the best-selling Sunday tabloid’s royal editor, Clive Goodman.
Operation Caryatid was described in court last year as “extremely limited.” Rebekah Brooks described the subsequent cover-up as “damage limitation.”
Operation SilverHawk and Another Limited Investigation
Overnight, Paddy French at the Press Gang, who revealed that Mahmood had deceived the Leveson Inquiry about the number of his convictions, disclosed that the Metropolitan Police are conducting another very limited inquiry into the Fake Sheikh in light of the Panorama Investigations:
“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.””
Again, this raises the question, posed by others: Mazher Mahmood and the Met – Too Close for Comfort?
This article was originally posted on my wordpress blog in December last year:
If anything the questions are even more relevant 7 months on