It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

The way Mazher Mahmood treated Tulisa makes her more of a victim than any celebrity who had their phone hacked

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What a week this has been for retirements from public life, with Steven Gerrard quitting international football and Nick Griffin “stepping aside” as BNP leader.

Cosmic law dictates that events come neatly packaged in trios, and it fell to a judge at Southwark Crown Court – the palace of justice where the Murdoch press’s pieties go to die – to produce the third.

Perhaps it is too soon to mourn the professional passing of Mazher Mahmood, who for so long gloried in the rhyming nom de plume of The Fake Sheikh.

On the prima facie evidence of his persecution of Tulisa Contostavlos, whom he appears not merely to have entrapped but fitted up as a would-be cocaine dealer, Mahmood is no huge fan of the notion of innocence until proven guilty.

Here on the bleeding-heart liberal left, we cleave to that sacred principle. So let it be acknowledged that Mahmood has only been suspended by The Sun on Sunday, pending one of those internal investigations that worked so well in the initial stages of the scandal which gave birth to the SoS, by executing the News of the World.

Yet however rigorous that may be, it should fall to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to charge him with committing perjury. The judge, Alistair McCreath, broadly hinted that he did just that when dismissing the case on the compelling grounds that Mahmood, the only prosecution witness, had lied.

READ MORE: Tulisa demands police investigation of ‘Fake Sheikh’

In the boomerang sting that stung the stinger, Mahmood posed as a Bollywood producer and enticed Tulisa to Las Vegas to discuss paying her £3m to star in a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. Here one feels warmly protective towards Tulisa.

Beneath the tough-talking, street-smart image she forged with her rap band N-Dubz, she must be an unusually trusting young woman to have imagined for a moment that the movies would come calling, and seek to pair her with one of cinema’s most bankable male leads.

However engagingly big-sisterish she was when steering Little Mix to X-Factor glory, she has no acting pedigree and no profile in the US or India. Two minutes into the pitch, a less naive soul would have thought: “Aye, aye, it’s that tosser Mazher Mahmood.”

In some ways Tulisa seems a splendid person who survived a wretchedly Dickensian childhood in which she cared for her mentally ill mother to build a fine career. It is a needless reminder of the pure malevolence of the Murdoch tabloids that Mahmood schemed to end it by sticking her behind bars.

Beyond the priestly enclave of the red-top news conference, does anyone care if a music industry twentysomething likes the odd line? Or claims, after being plied with booze, to be willing to facilitate a deal to ingratiate herself with an apparent film producer?

The irony here is that Tulisa is unusually draconian about drugs, as she told the guy who drove her away from a meeting with Mahmood. He later persuaded the driver to forget all about that little chat, and lied about doing so to the court that recently convicted Andy Coulson, Mahmood’s old boss when editor the News of the World.

 

Video: Tulisa drugs trial thrown out

Of the two cases, this one seems almost infinitely the worse. However distressing phone hacking was for its victims, no one whose messages were intercepted was threatened with jail.

Mahmood is credited with having sent 98 people to prison during his long stint in Arab robes – you must now wonder how many were falsely convicted on his evidence – and if he succeeds in making not Tulisa but himself the 99th, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

When a relieved but traumatised Tulisa described his work as “a horrific and disgusting entrapment”, she spoke the truth. Subterfuge in the cause of exposing serious wrongdoing is a legitimate and necessary journalistic tactic. Targeting a vulnerable young woman with the intent to destroy her is a deeply despicable act of bullying.

Tampering with the evidence and lying to the court about it is something else, and if proved demands a far longer sentence than Coulson’s 18 months. Should Mahmood end up sharing a cell with one of those whom his “journalism” put there in the first place, that would be a piece of rough justice we could all get behind.

As for the Murdoch empire, it seems that the humblest day of Rupert’s life made little real impression on his storm-troopers (you had to be at least as naive as Tulisa to suppose it would), who continue working towards the Fuhrer.

Presumably, the company is vicariously liable for the sins of its staff. If the exposure of Mahmood as what The Sun would inevitably call “vile” fails to persuade it that the age of manipulating people’s fates with the arrogance of Greek gods pulling the strings from Olympus is over, perhaps Tulisa will do the honours with an action not only for loss of earnings in the year she awaited trial.

She might consider a trifling claim – let’s be conservative, and say £50m – for the excruciating distress she was so wickedly caused.

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