The most celebrated British-Asian media personality has been exposed by BBC as a crook who trapped his victims with honey-coated promises. BBC Panorama special edition on Mazher Mahmood aka the Fake Sheikh attracted about 3 million viewers.
In another development, former attorney general Lord Goldsmith call for fresh into the cases involved with the Fake Sheikh.
“The fact the judge in the failed trial of Tulisa Contostavlos said he had lied was reason to look again,” said Mr Goldsmith.
A former News of the World colleague has told how they created elaborate stings to target celebrities unfairly.
Mr Mahmood told the BBC he used legitimate investigatory methods.
The reporter said he had helped secure about 100 convictions during his 30-year career at newspapers including the News of the World and Sunday Times.
Some of Mr Mahmood’s targets – including the former Grange Hill and London’s Burning actor John Alford – were prosecuted and jailed based on his evidence.
Mr Mahmood is currently suspended from the Sun on Sunday following the collapse of a drugs trial involving singer Tulisa Contostavlos.
The judge said there were strong grounds for believing Mr Mahmood had lied to the court to conceal the fact he had manipulated evidence. Mr Mahmood’s former associate Steve Grayson worked with Mr Mahmood on numerous stories in the 1990s.
One involved Page Three glamour model Emma Morgan, whom the pair led to believe she was being offered a lucrative contract for a Middle East bikini calendar.
But Mr Mahmood really wanted a story exposing her as a major drug pusher and had hired a man called Billy to assist.
Ms Morgan, who was 24 at the time, said she had been put under pressure for several hours to supply cocaine.
She had been asked to pick some up from Billy and give it to Mr Mahmood, which she had done.
Billy told Panorama: “The only real criminal was Mazher Mahmood, he gave me the money to buy the cocaine.”
Ms Morgan said: “I was a fool, I was naive. To be foolish isn’t a crime, to be naive isn’t a crime, to do what he did is criminal. I haven’t had the career I should have had. I haven’t had the life I should have had. He’s a horrible, horrible man.”
Mr Mahmood denied acting improperly and said Panorama’s account of events was wrong and misleading.
Solicitor Mark Lewis, who helped expose phone hacking at the News of the World and is representing some of Mr Mahmood’s victims, told Panorama: “The damage that’s caused, the damage for people’s livelihoods, the amount of people have sent to prison, it’s a far more serious thing than phone hacking ever was.”
Mr Mahmood told Panorama he had spent his career investigating crime and wrongdoing, he had used legitimate investigatory methods and brought many individuals to justice. He said any criticism of him usually came from those he had exposed or people he had worked with who had an “axe to grind”.
Vera Baird QC, the former solicitor general and now police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, said: “If he has been, as seems very clear, been caught out lying, and the judge [in the Contostavlos case] is quite sure of that, then of course if he may have been lying in the earlier cases and it is what he does to get his scoops then that needs to be looked at again,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“This is the territory between entrapment – persuading someone who had no intention of breaking the law to do so – and offering an opportunity to someone who is willing to take it, though it’s criminal. The real problem … is the utter randomness with which he chooses to offer the sky to some young person who is either struggling or very, very aspirant.
“There’s a great difference between the public interest and a public scandal being generated by making someone who has no intention of doing it do something wrong.”
Before the telecast, Mazher issued a statement said: “I am an investigative journalist and am as happy as anyone for the media to investigate. However I would expect them to rely upon credible sources. The BBC investigation appears to be largely based on allegations from two individuals who cannot be relied upon in particular a former News of the World photographer, Steve Grayson, and Florim Gashi.
“Grayson was sacked from the News of the World after faking photographs of the Beast of Bodmin Moor in 1999. I learned of the fake photographs and reported him to the editor resulting in Grayson’s dismissal. Grayson has blamed me for his demise ever since.”
The Leveson Inquiry heard evidence about how Grayson took a picture of a puma at Ilfracombe zoo and then removed the bars from the shot.
Mahmood said: “Grayson took the paper to an employment tribunal where he alleged that he was aware of a number of stories (not all by me) that had been fabricated. Each one was examined at the tribunal in detail and all of Grayson’s allegations were dismissed. He lost his claim for unfair dismissal.”
Mahmood claimed that since then Grayson has taken other actions against him and that he has shown the BBC that his evidence can’t be relied on.He said: “The other ‘whistleblower’ for the BBC is Florim Gashi, a convicted fraudster, who has been thoroughly discredited as a witness on a number of occasions in the criminal courts and cannot be considered reliable. Again significant evidence has been passed to the BBC to illustrate this.
“Other witnesses they have interviewed include individuals who have been properly convicted by the courts of offences where I have exposed criminality. They are not independent and again I have pointed out in detail to the BBC why no reliance should be placed upon them.
“The BBC proposes to broadcast, it would appear whatever the evidence shows, a programme designed to condemn my career as an investigatory journalist. They are doing so while there is an active investigation being carried out by the Metropolitan Police into the collapse of the Contostavlos trial. I am cooperating fully with the police inquiry and have not been arrested.