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Fake Sheikh facing jail and £800m claims after Tulisa trial tampering conviction

Published 05/10/2016

Undated handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood, who along with his driver Alan Smith have been found guilty at the Old Bailey in London, of conspiring to pervert the course of justice in the case of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos. PA
Undated handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood, who along with his driver Alan Smith have been found guilty at the Old Bailey in London, of conspiring to pervert the course of justice in the case of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos. PA

Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood is facing jail and a string of multimillion-pound lawsuits after being found guilty of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos.

Following a two-week trial at the Old Bailey, a jury found the 53-year-old "King of the Sting" and his driver, Alan Smith, 67, guilty of plotting to pervert the course of justice.

Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood keeps his face hidden as he arrives for his trial at the Old Bailey
Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood keeps his face hidden as he arrives for his trial at the Old Bailey

Following the verdict, it was announced that 18 civil claims were being launched against Mahmood which could total some £800 million.

Media lawyer Mark Lewis said the claims would "dwarf" those brought following the phone- hacking scandal.

The Crown Prosecution Service has already dropped a number of live cases in the wake of the Tulisa trial and reviewed 25 past convictions.

Six of those involving mainly high-profile individuals have been taken up by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The trial had heard that Mahmood and Smith conspired to suppress evidence in the N-Dubz star's trial, which was thrown out at Southwark Crown Court in July 2014.

The singer had been accused of arranging for Mahmood to be sold £800 of cocaine by one of her contacts following an elaborate sting for the Sun on Sunday in May 2013.

During a meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel in London, Mahmood posed as a film producer and plied Miss Contostavlos with alcohol as they discussed an acting role alongside Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.

As Smith drove the former X Factor judge home to Hertfordshire, she allegedly spoke about a family member who had a drugs problem.

When he was interviewed by police about the journey more than a year later, Smith, of Dereham, Norfolk, recalled the conversation.

But a day later, after speaking to Mahmood and emailing his draft statement, the singer's anti-drugs comments were removed, the court heard.

At a pre-trial hearing, Mahmood denied being an "agent provocateur" or that he discussed the drugs conversation with Smith.

File photo dated 04/04/16 of Tulisa Contostavlos as Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood and his driver Alan Smith have been found guilty at the Old Bailey in London, of conspiring to pervert the course of justice in the case of the pop star. PA
File photo dated 04/04/16 of Tulisa Contostavlos as Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood and his driver Alan Smith have been found guilty at the Old Bailey in London, of conspiring to pervert the course of justice in the case of the pop star. PA

But when he was questioned at length in the trial, Mahmood appeared to concede he had talked to Smith about what Miss Contostavlos said about drugs in the car.

Neither defendant gave evidence but it was said on Mahmood's behalf that there had been a "misunderstanding" of his evidence as he was "steamrollered" with multi-faceted questions.

And Miss Contostavlos's comments in the car would not have stacked up against the "clear and incontrovertible evidence" against her, it was claimed.

Defence lawyer John Kelsey-Fry QC told jurors: "Mr Mahmood is not a policeman. He is a journalist.

"Whilst the prosecution may say he boasts of the number of convictions resulting from his work, securing convictions is not actually his job."

He said Mahmood's whole investigation was about exposing the pop star's private face "smoking weed" and "arranging cocaine for mates" set against her public persona as a "role model".

Smith's lawyer, Trevor Burke QC, challenged jurors to try to remember, as his client had done, conversations and events a year earlier.

After her case collapsed in July 2014, Miss Contostavlos claimed to reporters she had been the victim of ''a horrific and disgusting entrapment''.

For more than 25 years, Mahmood has enjoyed a position as "King of the Sting" at the now defunct News of the World, Sunday Times and Sun on Sunday, with Smith as his "right-hand man".

Mahmood, from Purley, south London, has been suspended by News UK since the collapse of the Tulisa trial.

He claims to have helped put more than 100 criminals behind bars and risked his life on a daily basis to lift the lid on the murky world of crime.

Paedophiles, arms dealers and drug dealers have all found themselves at the centre of his stories, as have celebrities and public figures, including the Countess of Wessex, who was taped calling the Queen ''the old dear'', and Sven-Goran Eriksson, who revealed his plans to quit as England head football coach.

Neither defendant reacted as the guilty verdicts were delivered.

The prosecution asked for costs to be awarded totalling £37,929.

Judge Gerald Gordon adjourned sentencing until October 21 and allowed the defendants continued bail.

As he was leaving court, Mahmood declined to comment to journalists or say whether he would be launching an appeal.

Ben Rose, Miss Contostavlos's defence lawyer, said: "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.

"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 have now been convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice will hopefully deter other journalists from using entrapment to drive celebrity gossip stories.

"Mahmood's actions brought his profession into disrepute and ruined hundreds of lives in pursuit of better circulation figures.

"The Crown Prosecution Service should not be so credulous in future."

Mr Lewis, a partner at Seddons solicitors, said individuals in the civil cases had been convicted of crimes which, they argued at the time, came as the result of false evidence.

The claims for "substantial compensation" include people convicted more than 20 years ago.

Mr Lewis said: "Over the last 25 years, innumerable lives have been ruined by the dishonest actions of Mazher Mahmood. People have lost their livelihoods, their homes and relationships, with some spending time in prison.

"Following today's verdict, there will be a significant number of civil claims made against Mazher Mahmood. We anticipate the total sums involved could easily reach £800 million, with some awards dwarfing those seen in the phone-hacking scandal."

A News UK spokesman said: "We are disappointed by the news that Mazher Mahmood has been convicted. We do not have further comment at this time."

A CPS spokesman said: "We have taken all reasonable steps to trace cases linked to Mr Mahmood - including the issuing of a press release, along with scrutiny of our own records and other sources of information.

"We have identified 42 cases with 72 defendants involving Mahmood and we have been able to serve disclosure packs in 25 cases involving 41 defendants. We have also provided a disclosure pack to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

"The decision on whether to take any further legal steps rests solely with the relevant defence team.

"To date we are aware of two applications by convicted defendants for leave to appeal conviction. Both were refused by the Court of Appeal."

Officer in the case, Detective Constable Jim Morrison, said: "This case is a reminder that perverting the course of justice is a very serious offence that goes to the heart of our justice system. We will always take action where statements or other evidence has been tampered with."

Hacked Off campaign director Dr Evan Harris said the implications of Mahmood's conviction were "far-reaching".

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