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Keep an open mind, begs Fake Sheikh

Undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood has accused the BBC of being "determined to condemn me whatever the truth" after the corporation's head of news vowed to broadcast a Panorama episode about him.

The BBC's head of news, James Harding, said today that the corporation would broadcast the programme about Mr Mahmood once new information has been evaluated.

Now the ''Fake Sheikh'' has issued a statement asking people to "keep an open mind on any allegations".

Mr Mahmood said he had been "forced into making a statement to correct the impression they (the BBC) have given".

He added: "I hope the BBC will see sense and postpone any broadcast until the conclusion of any proceedings.

"I hope then that they will review and consider the evidence properly (and not threaten broadcast without the full facts) and stop the broadcast. This may be a vain hope. They are determined to condemn me whatever the truth.

"In the meantime, if they do go ahead, I would ask anyone interested to keep an open mind on any allegations they do indeed make."

The programme, featuring up-to-date images of the ''Fake Sheikh'', was not broadcast last night despite a ruling in the Court of Appeal refusing Mr Mahmood an injunction to stop the screening.

The BBC made the decision after receiving new information relating to one case in the documentary from Mr Mahmood's lawyers.

Mr Mahmood was criticised after the collapse of the drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos in July, when a judge said there were grounds to believe he had lied.

The journalist said that the BBC had publicised "the fact that their programme will condemn me, called me a 'crook' and tweeted mocking messages."

His statement comes after Mr Harding said today, in a speech to the Society of Editors, that the documentary would be aired as soon as possible and that the BBC had received the latest information "we'd been asking to see for many days" only shortly before the programme was due to be broadcast.

"This is a seriously good piece of work, extremely revealing and squarely in the public interest," Mr Harding said.

"But the worst of all worlds is when you get the big picture right and trip up over a detail.

"So when some information we'd been asking to see for many days was sent to us by Mazher Mahmood's lawyers at seven o'clock last night, we, as a responsible broadcaster, had to consider it. We're looking at it, and we'll make sense of it as quickly as we can, and then we'll broadcast it."

A BBC spokesperson had also said that the corporation received "new information" from Mr Mahmood's lawyers "shortly before transmission."

But the investigative journalist said that "contrary to claims that the BBC only received information at the last minute yesterday forcing them to evaluate new material provided, they were in fact provided the information that illustrated how the allegation they made was unsustainable at the end of last week.

"Yesterday afternoon and last night they were given further evidence at their request which gave further support to what we had already said. It was not new information," he said.

Mr Mahmood claimed that some of the witnesses interviewed for the programme "include individuals who have been properly convicted by the courts of offences where I have exposed criminality. They are not independent".

He added: "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 co-operating fully with the police inquiry and have not been arrested."

He said: "However because a decision will be taken shortly on whether any proceeding should be brought, the BBC has been asked by the Attorney-General of England and Wales to consider delaying the broadcast to wait on any decision to prosecute, so as not to prejudice any proceedings should they be brought.

"They are ignoring this and seem hell bent on broadcasting, whatever effect it may have. This is deeply irresponsible and not in the public interest or in the interests of justice".

Mr Mahmood had launched a last-minute challenge against a High Court judge's refusal on Friday to grant him an injunction.

He claimed that revealing his current appearance would breach his human rights by exacerbating the existing risk to his safety caused by his investigative work and would impact upon his family life.

But yesterday Lord Justice Elias and Lady Justice Sharp refused him permission to appeal, saying he had not shown any error in Sir David Eady's ruling.

Despite the outcome in court, the BBC decided instead to show a Panorama episode investigating the disappearance of Blackpool schoolgirl Charlene Downes.

The programme, described by Mr Mahmood's counsel, Justin Rushbrooke QC, as a "hatchet job", aims to shed light on the methods used by the reporter who exposed various personalities while working at the now defunct News of the World, using his disguise as a sheikh.

Mr Mahmood, who denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged, is currently suspended by the Sun and a number of cases in which he was set to be a witness have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service while investigations continue.

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