Fake Sheikh to be unmasked in BBC Panorama documentary

Mazher Mahmood failed to obtain an injunction

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The undercover journalist known as the “Fake Sheikh”, Mazher Mahmood, is to be unmasked after his lawyers failed to obtain a High Court injunction preventing a BBC Panorama documentary from revealing his appearance.

During a 30-year career, Mr Mahmood has fiercely guarded his identity and writes articles under a silhouetted byline image. He has been permitted to give court evidence from behind a screen and claims to have put more than 90 criminals behind bars.

But the High Court judge Sir David Eady ruled in favour of the BBC’s flagship documentary programme, finding “no reason to restrict the corporation’s freedom of speech or editorial discretion”. Panorama is due to broadcast its investigation into Mr Mahmood’s controversial reporting methods on Monday. The ruling is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Fake Sheikh, who is currently suspended from his job at The Sun on Sunday pending an internal investigation into his work by his employer, News UK. Mr Mahmood denies any wrongdoing.

The inquiry followed the collapse of a drugs trial involving the pop star Tulisa Contostavlos in July, where a judge questioned the reporter’s credibility and said there were “strong grounds to believe” he had lied. The prosecution had followed a tabloid “sting” in Las Vegas, in which Mr Mahmood had posed as a wealthy film mogul and promised the singer a role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. In the light of the judge’s comments, Scotland Yard is investigating whether the journalist committed a criminal offence.

In the wake of the Tulisa trial, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped a series of pending prosecutions based on Mr Mahmood’s evidence.


The Panorama programme will not be the first time that Mr Mahmood’s cover has been blown and photographs of the journalist exist online. The MP George Galloway, the victim of a failed sting at the Dorchester Hotel in London, put a picture of the Fake Sheikh on his website in 2006. Lawyers for the reporter applied for a High Court injunction banning publication on that occasion, too.

The injunction sought against Panorama would have covered any images taken of Mr Mahmood since 5 April 2006 not already in the public domain. Mr Mahmood was refused permission to appeal but can apply directly to the Court of Appeal. His counsel, Adam Speker, told the judge that showing his current appearance in a broadcast which was likely to be watched by millions was intrusive and not in the public interest.

Because of his work, threats had been made to Mr Mahmood, who lived a reclusive life in secure accommodation with 24-hour surveillance where his neighbours did not know his real identity. He had been filmed in shadow during an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show in 2008, photos in a memoir he had written were insufficient to identify him and various courts and hearings, including the Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the press, had taken steps to conceal his physical identity.

Manuel Barca, a lawyer for the BBC, said that Mr Mahmood’s identity was no secret and the public interest of the programme was self‑evident.