NOTW hired disgraced private investigator to protect fake Sheikh

Undercover reporter paid security firm chief Jonathan Rees to act as personal bodyguard

Mazher Mahmood, the News of the World's former star undercover reporter, hired "bodyguards" from the firm of a disgraced private investigator when his controversial sting operations forced him to attend court cases, The Independent has learnt.

The financial links between Mr Mahmood, who will give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today, and the security firm Southern Investigations, run by Jonathan Rees, was part of an established relationship that at one point earned the private investigator £150,000 a year from News International (NI).

During the period when Scotland Yard's anti-corruption detectives were investigating Rees and his firm for bribing police officers for illegally acquired confidential information, The Independent has discovered that Mr Mahmood's close-knit unit at the NOTW was paying Southern Investigations to work on specific projects.

Rees was jailed for seven years in 2001 for plotting to plant cocaine in the car of an innocent woman. He was also arrested in 1987 after the murder of his business partner, Daniel Morgan, but was formally acquitted of the killing earlier this year when a trial collapsed after lengthy legal argument.

Mr Mahmood, one of Fleet Street's most renowned operators, is appearing off-camera at the Leveson Inquiry at the start of a week of evidence by senior NI figures. His former NOTW colleagues Neville Thurlbeck and Neil Wallis are also due to appear.

Mr Mahmood is expected to be questioned about the entrapment techniques used in his "Fake Sheikh" exposés, including the recent spot fixing betting scandal which hit members of the Pakistan cricket team.

In 1999, when Mr Mahmood won a number of media awards including Reporter of the Year, Southern Investigations was helping him. On one occasion Rees was paid £1,500 to conduct inquiries into an illegal immigration scam that was later published as a NOTW exposé.

Southern Investigations was also being paid by the NOTW to protect Mr Mahmood. Known as the "king of the sting", his lucrative contract with the paper entitled him to a support crew which included the services of two bodyguards.

One of his undercover operations ended with the former London's Burning star, John Alford, being sentenced to nine months in jail for supplying cocaine and cannabis. The trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court heard that the actor had been taken in by "an elaborate, well-planned subterfuge". He was filmed in London's Savoy hotel, handing over drugs to Mr Mahmood, who was posing as an Arabian prince.

As part of Mr Mahmood's deal with the NOTW, he was allowed personal protection in public places. He hired Southern Investigations to be his "bodyguards" during the Alford trial, and on other occasions.

Rees was sentenced in 2001 to seven years in prison for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Along with a corrupt police detective, who was also jailed, Rees had been hired by a man divorcing his wife and wanted to stop her getting custody of their children. He arranged for cocaine to be planted in the woman's car, hoping the conviction would render her an unworthy parent.

Released from prison in 2005, Rees was almost immediately re-hired by the NOTW, then under the editorship of Andy Coulson, who went on to become David Cameron's communications chief.

In 2008, Rees was charged with conspiring to murder Morgan, who was found in a car park in south London with an axe in the back of his head in 1987.

The acquittal at the Old Bailey was ordered after the prosecution admitted it could not guarantee that the defence would be able to see every document needed for a fair trail. There were about 750,000 pages of material relating to the murder, stretching back 24 years. Mr Morgan's family has subsequently called for a judicial inquiry, citing allegations that police corruption obstructed a series of investigations into the murder.

Leveson inquiry: This week's highlights

Today Neil Wallis The former NOTW deputy editor has maintained a public silence since being arrested in connection with the phone hacking scandal. He is likely to face very limited questioning on voicemail eavesdropping but as an "old school" Fleet Street veteran with more than 30 years' experience, his general knowledge of tabloid tactics will be profound. Mazher Mahmood (AKA the "Fake Sheikh") and the NOTW's former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck will also give evidence.

Tomorrow Julian Pike Until recently the solicitor used by NI to lead its defence against hacking civil damages claims, Mr Pike has been dragged into the row about the surveillance of victims' lawyers. He is alleged to have sanctioned an operation to obtain information about Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris, two leading solicitors representing hacking claimants. Tom Crone, NI's former lawyer, is also due up.

Wednesday Colin Myler The NOTW's editor when it closed is at the heart of the row over how much James Murdoch was told in 2008 about the "for Neville" email.

 

Thursday Derek Webb The former police officer was employed by the NOTW to follow celebrities. It emerged last month that he was used to watch hacking victims' lawyers and dozens of other people.

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