As prosecution fails, is time running out for 'fake sheikh'?

His investigations have led to more than 200 convictions and caused acute embarrassment to members of the Royal Family, football managers and assorted celebrities.

Yesterday, however, the undercover reporting methods of the "fake sheikh", Mazher Mahmood, were thrown into question - not for the first time - when three men caught in one of his sting operations were cleared of any wrongdoing at the Old Bailey.

The men from north-west London, Roque Fernandes, 44, Dominic Martins, 45 and Abdurahman Kanyare, 53, denied allegations of plotting to supply terrorists with "red mercury", a rare radioactive material which could be used to make a bomb.

After deliberating for two weeks, the jury returned verdicts of not guilty to charges arising from Mr Mahmood's investigation for the News of the World.

Tipped off by an anonymous source, known as Mr B, Mr Mahmood posed as a potential seller of the deadly chemical and met the three men, accompanied by undercover police officers. The resulting story was splashed on the front of the paper in September 2004.

Before the start of the three-month trial, estimated to have cost more than £1m, the defence team urged the judge to throw out the case, arguing it would be an abuse to let it go ahead.

Mr Mahmood, whose investigations have prompted indiscretions from the former England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson, the Countess of Wessex and Princess Michael of Kent among others, was accused of being an agent provocateur who had trapped the three men.

Stephen Solley QC, representing Mr Martins, said there was a "huge danger of accepting Mr Mahmood's word in respect of any matter". He added that the deal was motivated by, "money on the one hand and selling newspapers on the other". "We submit that justice went out of the window," Mr Solley said.

The News of the World said it was "disappointed" by the outcome of the trial and defended its journalist and his story, insisting it would continue to pursue any investigation with a "clear public interest".

In a statement, the newspaper said: "Our story resulted from a thorough and legitimate investigation by Mazher Mahmood, one of the paper's most senior and experienced reporters whose exposés have led to over 200 convictions. The News of the World involvement in this investigation and subsequent trial, was conducted under the direction of senior anti-terrorist police officers.

"We are entirely satisfied that the methods used in the investigation were not only wholly proper but were both authorised and, from an early stage, continued in close liaison with the police."

Commenting on the case, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University, London, and a former editor of the Daily Mirror, said: "I don't know if it will stop him in his tracks. I think it should give the News of the World's editor and senior executives pause for thought about the use of subterfuge and of characters like this tipster who played a role in entrapping these men. It crosses a line between reactive journalism and proactive journalism. Either by charm or circumstance, people are lured into doing things they should never think of."

Mr Mahmood recently clashed with the Respect MP George Galloway, who claimed the reporter attempted to trap him by posing as an Islamic businessman. When Mr Galloway responded by circulating a photograph of Mr Mahmood, the News of the World applied for a temporary injunction on the grounds that his life was threatened. The injunction was later lifted.

In another infamous sting in November 2002, Mr Mahmood exposed an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham and her sons. Five men were arrested, but the case against them collapsed.

Mazher Mahmood's front-page news

George Galloway March 2006

The Respect MP called Mahmood an "agent provocateur" and a "disgrace to journalism" after the reporter invited him to dinner at the Dorchester in March, posing as a Muslim businessman. The News of the World denied that Mahmood tried to "entrap" Mr Galloway and made anti-Semitic comments at the meeting. When Mr Galloway circulated a photograph of Mahmood, the News of the World sought a temporary injunction, which was later lifted.

Victoria Beckham Kidnap Case November 2002

Mahmood uncovered a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham and her sons and ransom them for £5m. Five men were arrested but the case collapsed after it emerged the main witness, Florim Gashi, had been paid £10,000 for the story.

Freddy Shepherd March 1998

Freddy Shepherd, the chairman of Newcastle United, and Doug Hall, his deputy, made a string of sensational indiscretions to Mahmood in a trawl of lap-dancing clubs in Marbella, on the "Toongate tapes". These included describing Newcastle women as "dogs" and calling Kevin Keegan "Shirley Temple".

John Alford August 1997

The former Grange Hill star John Alford claimed he was the victim of "Dark Age journalism" after he was sentenced to nine months in prison for agreeing to supply Mahmood with cocaine. The actor was sacked from his £50,000-a-year job playing a fire fighter on ITV's London's Burning when the revelations appeared in the News of the World.

The Countess Of Wessex April 2001

The Earl of Wessex's wife met the fake sheikh at the Dorchester in the hope of securing a £20,000-a-month PR contract with a Saudi prince. In the ensuing "Sophie tapes", the Countess of Wessex made a series of comments about members of the Government and claimed that Cherie Blair "hates" the countryside.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas