Prosecutors 'knew witness in Beckham case was paid'

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The Independent Online

The solicitor for one of the men wrongly accused of plotting to kidnap Victoria Beckham called yesterday for the Director of Public Prosecutions to open an inquiry into the events surrounding the case.

Siobhain Egan, whose client, Adrian Pasaraneu, was earlier this week cleared with four other men, claimed the Crown Prosecution Service and the police were "bounced" into bringing charges by the News of the World.

Last night, Ms Egan said she was "appalled" that charges were brought against her client. She called for the head of the CPS, David Calvert-Smith QC, to investigate his department. "I think the police and the crown were bounced into this prosecution," she said.

Ms Egan revealed: "I wrote to the prosecution in January telling them that I had heard that the News of the World had paid Gashi. As a result, they went to speak to Mazher Mahmood, who said Gashi had been paid."

The case collapsed during a pre-trial hearing when the prosecution acknowledged that its key witness, Florim Gashi, who had infiltrated the "kidnap gang" on behalf of the newspaper, could not be relied upon in court after being paid £10,000 by the News of the World.

The prosecution followed a "world exclusive" story in November last year, headlined "Posh kidnap: we stop crime of the century", in which five men were quoted describing how they would apparently seize Mrs Beckham, spray her with a poison gas, keep her in a "safe house" and release her only when her multimillionaire husband, David, paid a £5m ransom demand.

It was alleged that the scheme was, in fact, cooked up by Gashi, in an effort to earn money from the tabloid.

The newspaper, under the direction of Rebekah Wade, then editor, and investigations editor Mazher Mahmood, called in the police just hours before the alleged "gang" were to turn up in a hotel car park, giving officers little time to prepare for any prosecution.

The case should have been thrown out at that time, Ms Egham said. "If they had listened to us and acted properly our people would have been out long since."

This would also have saved the taxpayer considerable money, as police officers were subsequently sent to Germany and Romania to investigate the background of the accused men.

Penny Muir, solicitor for Alin Turcu, another of the alleged gang members, said: "Gashi was a criminal with mental health problems who said his motivation was to sweep crime from the streets. You would not think the CPS would take his words at face value."

Ms Muir said she thought the CPS was "dazzled" by the case's high profile, and that the newspaper had acted in a "totally unscrupulous" manner.

The judge in the case has already called on the Attorney General to investigate the newspaper. A News of the World spokeswoman said last night that the authorities had not yet been in touch. "I suppose, given what the judge said, we can expect a call. But to date - nothing."

The prosecuting barrister, Brian Altman, said the News of the World was alerted to the Beckham story by Gashi, 27, a Kosovan parking attendant and convicted criminal, who had worked with the paper before.

He tipped reporters off last August about a female car park attendant who was allegedly drug dealing. Mr Altman told the court how in a police interview, the woman had said Gashi had given her a wrap of heroin, setting up the "sting".

Taking this information into account, the prosecution reviewed the Beckham case and found out that the News of the World had paid Gashi £10,000 last autumn.

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