Why I am out to nail Mazher Mahmood

Ex-national newspaper editor Roy Greenslade says it's time to root out underhand practices that bring the profession into disrepute

I have been accused of wanting to destroy Mazher Mahmood's career. So let me begin this journey into Mahmood's murky world by making clear what I really wish to achieve, and why.

I want to put an end to his regular use of subterfuge, the most controversial weapon in journalism's armoury. I want him to mothball the fake sheikh's robes. And I want his paper, the News of the World, to take a long, hard look at its journalistic ethics and to reconsider its editorial agenda.

The reason is straightforward: Mahmood's methods debase journalism. They often amount to entrapment and, on occasion, appear to involve the use of agents provocateurs. People have been encouraged to commit crimes they would not otherwise have conceived. As if that wasn't enough, the public interest justification advanced for such activities by the NoW is almost always highly debatable.

Let me make it clear that I am not saying that the use of subterfuge by newspapers should be outlawed entirely. But as the editors' code of practice quite properly states: "Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means."

So The Sunday Times reporter who claimed to work for a potential city academy donor in order to discover whether honours could be purchased - leading to last week's arrest of headmaster Des Smith - can point to a public interest reason for subterfuge.

Indeed, to obtain some of his stories about crime - whether posing as a sheikh or as the smooth businessman Sam Fernando - Mahmood was undoubtedly justified in using subterfuge. But it is a technique that should surely be used sparingly because it can too easily be abused. There is a fine line between the use of subterfuge and the act of entrapment.

I am far from alone in holding these views. Senior Scotland Yard officers have voiced their concerns, albeit privately. Several judges have also questioned the merits of his brand of subterfuge. Perhaps even more revealingly, so have jurors.

In a 1999 court case not given anything like the publicity it deserved, the jury took the extraordinary step of sending a note to the judge explaining that they had reached their decision to convict two men exposed by Mahmood for drug-dealing with great reluctance. They said they would have acquitted the men, one of whom was an hereditary peer, if the law had enabled them to take into account the "extreme provocation" they had been under to sell cocaine to Mahmood. The judge agreed and passed suspended sentences.

He then said: "Journalists in general, and those involved in this case in particular, should carefully examine and consider their approach to investigations where it involves no police participation."

But this was not an isolated case. Though the NoW consistently points to the (alleged) fact that Mahmood has been responsible for the jailing of 130 people, defence lawyers have regularly sought to show that their clients have been victims of elaborate sting operations.

One of Mahmood's most controversial cases was his revelation of the alleged plot by a supposed "international gang" to kidnap Victoria Beckham. I have spent a lot of time investigating this investigation. I have read all the transcripts of the video and audio tapes made by Mahmood's team. I have spoken at length to some of the defending solicitors. I have interviewed one of the alleged plotters, then a young medical student and now a doctor, an innocent whose career has suffered appallingly due to his involvement. I have travelled to Croatia to meet the man, Florim Gashi, who openly admits to having engineered the whole plot.

All of this convinced me that my initial feeling, when I read the NoW's "world exclusive" in November 2002, was correct. There was no plot. The men who were to spend seven months in jail awaiting trial were entirely innocent of that charge.

When they finally appeared for trial, the prosecution announced that it was withdrawing the charges because of the unreliability of the main witness, none other than Mr Gashi. The judge responded by calling on the Attorney-General to look into the affair, but nothing came of it. Later, when one of the gang sued the NoW for libel, he also lost. Mahmood therefore escaped legal retribution for his part in the affair.

But I was not the only one to meet Mr Gashi in Dubrovnik last September. Three Scotland Yard detectives were also there to interview him about his relationship with Mahmood. They discovered, as did I, a remarkable fact. Quite apart from acting as agent provocateur in the kidnap plot, he had played a central role in at least four other scoops under Mahmood's byline.

Was Mr Gashi - a convicted liar with a history of mental illness - so cunning that he fooled Mahmood every time? He says he persuaded people, usually immigrants from his own Albanian background engaged in petty crime, to commit high-profile crimes that would be newsworthy enough to please Mahmood and his NoW bosses.

Mr Gashi told me: "I am responsible for innocent people going to jail. I tricked them, and I'm ashamed. It's time to tell the truth." A month later, he moved to Vienna and told his story to two more detectives and to lawyers from two firms representing men featured in Mahmood's stories. Nothing has happened since and Mahmood has since added more names to his roll-call of victims by tricking Princess Michael of Kent into making some faintly embarrassing statements and fooling Sven Goran Eriksson into revealing his private thoughts.

The Press Complaints Commission has consistently ruled against journalistic "fishing expeditions", such as the use of clandestine listening devices on the off-chance of discovering some wrong-doing. Yet Mahmood's attempt to entrap George Galloway MP, and two years before that, Diane Abbott MP, were classic examples of fishing expeditions. There was no prima facie evidence against either that provided justification for the use of subterfuge.

Unsurprisingly, Mahmood's celebrity status among tabloid journalists has encouraged other reporters, within the NoW and elsewhere, to adopt similar tactics. None has dared mimic his sheikh routine but they do use his techniques. The rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio suffered from an NoW sting, as did Tom Parker Bowles.

After the former NoW editor Piers Morgan assumed the editorship of the Daily Mirror, two of his female reporters persuaded the son of the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to buy drugs.

There, in a nutshell, is the danger of the Mahmood method. It encourages bad journalistic behaviour. It's hardly any wonder that journalists are held in such low esteem by the people they purport to represent and that the sales of the scandalous red-tops appear to be in free-fall.

I want Mahmood to clean up his act, to return to being the good reporter I know he once was. He may get fewer scoops but they will surely be more worthwhile.

Roy Greenslade is professor of journalism at London's City University and was editor of the 'Daily Mirror' from 1990-91

MEDIA DIARY

Keeping the faith

Mark Damazer's tinkering at Radio 4 has caused some serious consternation among its sensitive listeners. The former BBC governor Sir Richard Eyre recalls when things were done differently. "When I was a governor of the BBC [from 1995 to 2003], there were several representations from the British Humanist Association to demand equal airtime with the 'faith' squad," says Sir Richard in this week's New Statesman. "The head of radio would implore us not to poke the hornet's nest; so 'Thought for the Day' endures, like the monarchy and the House of Lords, not because of its inherent virtues or popular support, but because it's more trouble than it's worth to change or abolish it."

Murphy's law at RDF

The dust is still settling after the abrupt departure of former BBC3 controller Stuart Murphy - credited with the success of Little Britain - after just three months in the creative director's chair of production company RDF. Hailed as a wunderkind while at the Beeb, Murphy fared less well at the independent producers, responsible for Wife Swap and Ladette to Lady.

"We haven't had anything commissioned since he joined," says one disgruntled RDFer. "We used to have brilliant trailer-style presentations when we were trying to sell a new idea to a channel. When Stuart arrived, he decided he should just have his own dictated words projected on a wall when meeting commissioners. It went down terribly. He was constantly trying to hire someone from within the BBC to come and be head of a new comedy division at RDF," adds my source. "He was continually politely declined."

Goodnight from them

Usually a backwater, BBC News 24 has been hauling in some prominent presenters. On Thursday Emily Maitlis and Ben Brown were brought in and seated at the same desk. "They looked like something out of The Two Ronnies," noted one viewer. "There was some tension about who would get the limelight. Both were constantly trying to wisecrack over each other." One rolling news channel is evidently not big enough for both egos.

'Zoo' and the Zen factor

Watch out, Nuts. Anthony Noguera, the editor of its arch-rival Zoo, is taking no prisoners. The lads' mag guru was asked for his personal mantra. "Never had one," he answered, before adding worryingly: "Although 'always escalate' never did any harm to Ariel Sharon."

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

International Promotions Manager - Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: A global entertainment busi...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker