After Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, got guilty last week and in doing so opened the floodgates to civil claims potentially worth as much as £800 million, some observers of the trial and its aftermath may have come away with the impression that this demonstrated the soundness of the régime under which the whole process, including the original trial, was conducted. I have to tell them that nothing could be further from the truth.
As Ben Rose, who was Tulisa Contostavlos’ defence lawyer, has pointed out in an article for the Independent, Maz had the dice loaded well and truly in his favour. Much that the defence wanted to present at that original trial was ruled inadmissible. Mahmood came perilously close to adding another notch to his long list of dubious successes. There are serious questions for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to answer.
Rose spells it out: “although a police officer cannot mount a case based on a £3.5m inducement, a journalist can, provided he or she has a reasonable suspicion that offences are already being committed”. There was more. “The Tulisa sting produced 72 hours of recordings. It took hundreds of hours of listening to detect a whispered instruction to his assistant to take Tulisa to the toilets, off tape, and offer her £3.5m for acting the part of a drug dealer, something that Mahmood denied on oath but sound experts confirmed”.
Why did Maz’ driver’s statement, the subject of the recent trial, matter? “The subsequent lies and attempts to get a driver to change his statement to bury evidence of Tulisa’s dislike of hard drugs was Mahmood’s attempt to hang onto his claim that she was already a hard drugs dealer before he came along”. That’s why.
And then there was the invocation of journalistic privilege: “Mahmood was even able to exercise journalistic privilege to shield the identities of the other journalists involved in the sting, including the mysterious woman who made the unrecorded and disputed offer of £3.5m in the toilets”. None of those individuals would be known to the first trial’s jury.
It got worse: the CPS “simply accepted Mahmood’s evidence. It was clear that the integrity of the entire process rested on his being an honest witness. The trial judge described Mahmood as ‘the sole progenitor of [the] case, the sole investigator, the sole prosecution witness [and] someone who appears to have gone to considerable lengths to get Ms Contostavlos to agree to involve herself in criminal conduct’”.
But the CPS was clearly not bothered enough to check on Maz’ background: “CPS London were not only sent a dossier of Mahmood’s past conduct in such investigations, much of which was appallingly and quite evidently dishonest, but given periodic updates as further material came to light. At no point did it regard it as being in the public interest to prevent this shabby fraudster from using the justice system for his own ends”.
It wasn’t just about the Fake Sheikh and his dishonest entrapments. His stings had previously included co-operation from the Police - one has to ask what checks they made, what tabs they kept on him - and what appears to be an utterly craven approach by the CPS, which failed to investigate Maz’ fitness to act as an agent provocateur.
Then there is the Murdoch press, in whose name Mazher Mahmood plied his trade, which has made great play in slagging off the CPS of late - but not this time. I wonder why.