At the end of last week, there was a brief moment of relief as Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, his legal team bankrolled by the Murdoch press, failed in his bid to stop a Panorama programme which would reveal not only his identity, but also the methods he used in a series of sting operations. The BBC had also spoken to some who had worked with Mahmood in the past.
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Now has come news that someone else likely to come out of the exercise with their reputation unlikely to be enhanced is voicing disquiet about the broadcast. Mahmood had one ally in his quest to procure More And Bigger Paycheques For Himself Personally Now – the Metropolitan Police. The Met is a formidable opponent, and it is unhappy about the potential content of the programme.
But, so what? One cannot object to free dissenting speech. So the Met has rushed to put forward as credible an excuse as can be mustered – that the broadcast might prejudice any action against Mahmood in the future. There was, as Captain Blackadder might have said, only one thing wrong with this idea – it was bollocks. The same Met has not so much as indicated it will charge Mahmood.
What the Met might not like telling is how closely Mahmood worked with them: “the entire job I was basically working for Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism squad. I was registered as a participating informant; every single movement I made was on their orders. Quite often, as it came out in court, I didn’t agree with what they were doing, but I had to do it as I was working for them” he told Press Gazette.
That was the so-called “Dirty Bomb” sting, which, not for the first time with a Fake Sheikh plot, resulted in no convictions at all. But what did result from this rather ripe-smelling joint exercise was significant embarrassment for the Met, and the continuing suspicion that Robert Mark and his successors had failed to purge the force of officers who were, let us not drive this one round the houses for too long, bent.
What chance of success does the behind-the-scenes leaning on the Beeb have? Not much, if Sir David Eady’s remarks last Friday are anything to go by: “while the Attorney General was ‘entitled to point out the problem that might arise if he's prosecuted, it's not grounds for the injunction as such’”. Plus, as Mahmood has not been charged, the Corporation is not in contempt of court.
The Met has put the heat on those it thinks are involved: “the Surrey home of former Metropolitan Police Superintendent David Cook was raided by detectives from the Met's anti-corruption command, who questioned him under caution over alleged unauthorised disclosures to Panorama”. Someone is getting desperate.
The BBC looks likely to stand its ground. So it should. The Met has been party to appallingly bad behaviour over the years. We should be allowed to know about it.