Ben Rose comments on Mazher Mahmood’s conviction for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
5 Oct 2016
The case and background:
Mazher Mahmood, the ‘fake sheikh’, has been convicted of the serious offence of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice during the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos.
Tulisa’s trial, for the supply of a class A drug, was stopped because of the rarely used rule that the court may not make itself party to ‘improper conduct’. The judge became suspicious that Mahmood, the “sole progenitor, the sole investigator, and the sole prosecution witness”, had lied in a pre-trial hearing.
We exerted a huge effort to decipher numerous poor quality recordings that the prosecution had simply given up on and exposed crucial evidence that called into question Mahmood’s honesty, integrity and motivations, casting a shadow over his whole operation. Undermining his integrity as a journalist was crucial to exposing the dangers of the trial. The final coup came when we were able to show that he even lied in the witness box about discussions he had with another prosecution witness.
Had all this not come to light, there was a very real risk that Tulisa, like others before her, would have gone to jail.
Associated opinion on the scandal of CPS prosecuting entrapment by journalists
Mahmood has a chequered history of convictions achieved using entrapment and subterfuge. This is the first time his dishonesty has been proven to spread into the criminal trial process itself. This case highlights the total lack of safeguards that apply to non-state entrapment.
Testifying before the Leveson inquiry, Mahmood boasted of being responsible for 253 criminal convictions, though the real number is thought to be somewhat lower. Many of his victims were lured into uncharacteristic criminal conduct by the prospect of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Mahmood conducted an elaborate subterfuge to obtain evidence in this case. As with all his victims, he used deception worthy of the most sophisticated fraudster to ensnare Tulisa. The recordings even revealed a whispered conversation in which he asked his female sidekick to offer Tulisa £3.5 million to play a part in the film. She then told Tulisa to “act the part” for Mahmood. If a police officer acted in this way the resulting evidence could never be used in court because of strong safeguards enacted by Parliament against police entrapment. These same safeguards do not apply to journalists and private investigators.
The shocking fact is that it was not the wholesale entrapment which convinced the judge that the case must end, but Mahmood’s perjury over his contact with another witness.
The real scandal in this case is that Mahmood was allowed to operate as a wholly unregulated police force, ‘investigating’ crimes without the safeguards which apply to the police. As a journalist, he was able to rely on unnamed ‘sources’ and was not required to give full disclosure of his investigation to the defence. As Tulisa’s defence lawyers, we were prevented from properly testing the strength of his evidence.
It was obvious from the outset that Tulisa should never have had to go to court. If Mahmood’s evidence had been properly stress tested instead of accepted wholesale by the CPS, we are confident it would have come to the same conclusion.
Investigative journalists do important work, but Mahmood clearly went too far. That he [and his driver] has[ve] now been convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice will hopefully deter other journalists from using entrapment to drive celebrity gossip stories. But it is shocking that Mahmood was able to get so many convictions despite mounting evidence of his duplicity. Chronic underfunding might explain why those involved in the criminal justice system are unable to resist the lure of his pre-packed prosecutions, but everyone involved failed to grasp the extent of his dishonesty.
Mahmood’s actions brought his profession into disrepute and ruined 100s of lives in pursuit of better circulation figures. There were constant allegations made that he had manufactured evidence, but no-one charged with protecting the public ever took them seriously. The Crown Prosecution Service should not be so credulous in future.