A British tabloid journalist will appear in a Cape Town court today charged with "attempting to defeat the ends of justice" after South African police accused him of helping an England fan gain access to the team's dressing room in the aftermath of their match with Algeria 12 days ago.
Simon Wright, 44, a reporter on the Sunday Mirror, was arrested on Monday and his case will be heard by one of the special fast-track courts set up for the World Cup. He is also being charged with offences under South Africa's Immigration Act and faces a custodial sentence if found guilty.
It is the latest twist in the curious tale of the tabloid reporter, the fan and David Beckham. The South African Police Service (Saps) claims that Mr Wright "orchestrated" the affair, helping Pavlos Joseph, from Crystal Palace in London, find his way to the England dressing room in Cape Town's Green Point Stadium after the dispiriting goalless draw against Algeria.
Mr Joseph, 32, managed to evade both the organisers' security and England's own to confront Beckham. He then made his way out of the ground and, according to Saps, was taken by Mr Wright to the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay, where he was booked in under an assumed name – so contravening the country's Immigration Act.
The Sunday Mirror, which has denied the first charge on behalf of its reporter, published an exclusive interview with Mr Joseph two days after the game. Mr Wright wrote: "As police hunted high and low for Pavlos, unaware of his name and scouring CCTV for his face, the man at the centre of it all was calmly sitting down to breakfast with the Sunday Mirror."
Mr Joseph claimed to have spoken to Mr Beckham and England players after getting lost while searching for a toilet and finding himself in the team's dressing room. He told the newspaper that he informed Beckham that the team's performance against Algeria was "woeful" and a "disgrace" before asking, "What are you going to do about it". Beckham's version is somewhat different. The former England captain reported that all Mr Joseph said was "hello".
South Africa's national police commissioner, General Bheki Cele, said yesterday: "The police have reason to believe this incident was orchestrated, and involved the co-operation of a number of individuals. The police believe the motive was to put the World Cup security in a bad light and possibly to profit from it. Mr Wright has admitted to harbouring and interviewing Mr Pavlos Joseph at a time when the police were searching for the latter in order to effect an arrest.
"The second criminal charge against Mr Wright relates to his alleged conduct in booking luxury hotel accommodation for Mr Joseph using false or incorrect particulars." Mr Joseph's case was due to have been heard yesterday.
Mr Wright was part of a large media contingent reporting on England's disastrous stay in South Africa. They are divided into two distinct groups who resolutely try to avoid each other, the sports reporters and the "rotters", as they are known – the tabloid newsmen assigned to England during tournaments. The "rotters" have had a relative shortage of material during this tournament compared to years gone by with no WAG sideshow, and the marked decline in hooliganism.
A Trinity Mirror spokesman said that Mr Wright was "engaged in a legitimate story and any suggestion that he or the newspaper was involved with Pavlos Joseph before he entered the dressing room is entirely false".Reuse content