Before Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, was sentenced after he got guilty on a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, or as most people call it, lying, over evidence manipulation in the trial of singer Tulisa Contostavlos, a glowing testimony to the ultimate bent journalist was passed to the judge. The praise came from his last editor, the Sun on Sunday’s Victoria Newton. Maz was still sent down.
Hang on, that's not right, it says "your time's up" here
Think about that for a moment. Mazher Mahmood was known throughout the Fourth Estate, as Nick Davies so memorably put it, as “a criminal with an NUJ card”. He had taken part in manufacturing what would nowadays be called “fake news” more than once - the so-called “dirty bomb” plot was one (there was no dirty bomb, no possibility of making one, and no plot) and the non-existent Beckham kidnap was another.
Yet here was the editor of the paper at which Maz’ adventures had finally run out of road, trying one last spin of the dice to keep him out of the slammer. And it gets worse: when Ms Newton hired Maz in 2013, it was against advice that warned her to leave well alone. Yes, he was a confidante of the twinkle-toed but domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, and also, it seems, of both James and Rupert Murdoch, but he was her hire.
Maz had been reported to the Attorney General over the Beckham kidnap “story”. It was said of the “dirty bomb” plot that a three-year-old could have seen through it. Maz’ own collaborator at the time said it was “a total lie”. As Graham Johnson has mused, “@TheSun Chief Exec Rebekah Brooks ran 91 #fakesheik stories at News of the World - many illegally got /hacked/blagged/spoofed = #leveson2”.
Leveson Part 2, concerning the relationship between newspapers and the Police, is highly relevant to what Mazher Mahmood was up to, because not only did he work closely with them, he also pretended to be a Police Officer (sometimes a Customs or Immigration Officer, depending on his requirements) and, most damningly, claimed to have access to a number - as in rather more than one - of bent cops. Bent serving cops.
After the Hacking scandal, and the attendant trial, along with the first part of the Leveson Inquiry, nobody, but nobody, should have gone near Mazher Mahmood. Many of the stories that make up that 91 that the late and not at all lamented Screws ran were already viewed with suspicion - several are now the subject of appeal proceedings where it is argued that they are unsafe - and the risk of using Maz’ methods again was clear.
Yet Victoria Newton was prepared to take that risk, bring Maz back, and even plead clemency for him right up to the point that he was taken down. Either she was a supremely bad judge of character, or someone else - maybe more than one person - was using her as cover. All of that needs to be brought out into the open, and Leveson 2 will assist us in that process. We should see bad and bent journalism for what it is.
Of course, Victoria Newton could come clean and explain why she rehired Maz. But that would be most unlike a Murdoch editor. So Leveson Part 2 it is, then.