Other dark arts at the News of the World – Fake Sheikh investigated by police just before Phone Hacking operation

A timeline on the Fake Sheikh, News of the World and police investigations by my  occasional contributor, Joe Public. Crossposted at Bellingcat.

Scotland Yard investigated Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood 9 YEARS AGO – in 2005 just four months before they initiated a phone hacking case into his newspaper. Like operation Caryatid, there isn’t a trace of a follow up or outcome despite the evidence that triggered the investigation being accepted in TWO courts. Instead, just 8 months after opening the investigation, the Yard publicly declared; “it would not rule out working with the paper again” after the collapse of a trial both Met and NotW brought to court together.

These events started when in 2004 when the Met Police [SO13] joined forces with News of the World on a fake sheikh sting “Red Mercury -Dirty Bomb”. Both the Met and Mahmood have confirmed working together since, as Mahmood told the Press Gazette; “the entire job I was basically working for Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism squad”.

A year earlier, another fake sheikh story: a Victoria Beckham kidnap plot case was thrown out by the Crown Prosecution Service before the trial started because the main prosecution witness had been paid £10,000 by Mahmood.

One of the 5 men cleared of the Beckham plot – Alin Turcu real name Bogdan Maris – won a libel case against News of the World using the evidence of Florim Gashi who admitted setting up the plot. Gashi who worked on a number of stories with Mahmood who hired him as an agent provocateur for stories that imprisoned innocent people, wasted police times/resources and cost huge amounts of public money.

The timeline was as follows:

Oct 2002: Mahmmod/NotW mets Scotland Yard’s DI Horrocks and DC Hulme to inform them about a kidnap plot but doesn’t disclose to name the target telling them “the editor [Brooks] would like to keep that matter a secret for as long as possible and thus not spoil the story she was planning to publish.”

Nov 2002: Mahmood has a 08:15am meeting with police to discuss how to lure the “gang” and finally disclose the target is Victoria Beckham. Arrests made at 12:40pm in the car park of Ibis Docklands Hotel. News of the Workd publish ‘Posh Kidnap’ story.  Turcu, Jay Sorin, Luli Krifsha, Joe Rivas and Adrian Pasareanu are held on conspiracy to kidnap charges.

June 2003: After 7 months on remand, The CPS confirm the case has collapsed after police find the £10,000 News of the World payment to the main prosecution witness [Gashi], saying: “We have decided to offer no evidence on the conspiracy to kidnap Victoria Beckham. They declare”Our picture of the News of the World informant, Florim Gashi, 27, was reappraised. We are now of the opinion that he is an unreliable witness after receiving financial gain from the News of the World.”

After formally clearing the five man “gang” at a hearing in Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court, judge Simon Smith said; “I am minded to refer the whole of this matter to the Attorney General to consider the temptations to which money being offered in return for stories, in particular about celebrities, gives rise to – and the way in which newspaper investigations may have a detrimental effect on – the ultimate court proceedings.”

News of the World hit back. An angry Andy Coulson told Press Gazette;

“We are bewildered by what is an apparent ambush on Maz and the New of the World in court.”

Then, in a Leader Column the newspaper told its readers;

“The accusations and cynical innuendo – made with the self-interest of others at heart – must be nailed. It is your view of us that counts” continuing “The CPS had their day in court. But it didn’t stop there. They went on to brief journalists to ensure everyone knew who was ‘to blame’.

“But the News of the World does not make the decision to continue with a police investigation, or to lay charges and trigger a court case… the police and CPS do. And on the dramatic day of the arrests, police took the threat to the Beckhams seriously, warning them to step up security.

“This newspaper is proud of its long-standing crusade for law and order. Mahmood himself has frequently attracted the praise of police and judges after exposing immigrant smugglers, child abusers and gun runners.”

September 2004: Scotland Yard’s SO13 collaborate with News of the World’s Mazher Mahmood “Red Mercury – Dirty Bomb” story. Three men, Roque Fernandes, Abdurahman Kanyare, both of Edgware, and Dominic Martins, of Stanmore, are held in custody for allegedly conspiring to fund terrorism and conspiring to possess an article for terrorist purposes, by trying to buy a kilogram of “red mercury”. All three deny all the charges.

May 2005: Alin Turcu aka Bogdan Marin brings libel case against News Group Newspapers [News of the World] who featured in the paper as a “international terror gang” member intent on kidnapping ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. He was later cleared of all charges related to kidnap (after police found £10,000 payment to a key witness) but libel thrown out by high court judge Mr Justice Eady, who ruled Turcu had taken part in “apparently genuine discussions about kidnapping Victoria Beckham.”

At this hearing, Mazher Mahmood, in his evidence reveals two important points:

1) Rebekah Brooks withheld the identity of Victoria Beckham as the target of a kidnap plot.

2) Criminals were hired by NotW for the fake sheikh “since they were less likely to arouse suspicions among those being investigated or infiltrated”

Sept 2005: Florim Gashi decides to speak to the police about the work he’d done for Mazher Mahmood after reading Justice Eady’s libel ruling and encouraged by Guardian’s Roy Greenslade who he told;

“I am responsible for innocent people going to jail. I tricked them, I’m ashamed. It’s time to tell the truth.”

The same month Scotland Yard send three detectives to Dubrovnik in Croatia to interview Florim Gashi. Despite his past conviction for dishonesty, the Yard took him seriously enough to send two more detectives to Vienna to speak to him again. While in Vienna Gashi gave formal interviews to lawyers from two firms representing men featured in NotW stories.

A statement [Dated 21/09/05] is taken from Gashi for the high court appeal of Alin Turcu for libel against NGN [NotW] that alleges News of the World’s Victoria Beckham kidnap plot was a “set-up” (he was the main source turned main prosecution witness) and “most of Maz’s stories involve setting-up people to talk on tape. Sometimes the whole tape show the whole thing is a set-up. Those tapes never see the light of day. In the Beckham case (2002), I remember two or three recording were destroyed by him.”

Oct 2005: Scotland Yard open an investigation into Mazher Mahmood and the bases of many of his stories as a direct result of Florim Gashi’s new claims.

However, Roy Greensdale quotes a senior Scotland Yard detective as saying; He [Gashi] appears to be telling a third version of his part in the kidnap,” he says. “It’s impossible to rely on his evidence.”

A News of the World spokesman said: “No story based on information supplied by Gashi has been published without first being stringently tested and verified with convincing independent evidence. The allegations in respect of the Beckham kidnap plot have been raised before, independently investigated, tested under oath in the high court and been rejected.”

March 2006: Metropolitan police open Operation Caraytid to investigate phone hacking at News of the World by SO13 [anti-terror] overseen by Andy Hayman.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, Scotland Yard’s CO13 and News of the World are are working together with CPS on the Red Mercury case being brought before the courts.

May 2006: After two years on remand, the Old Bailey trial of Fernandes, Kanyare and Martins finally begins.

The prosecutor, Mark Ellison, admitted the police had no idea if there even was such a thing as red mercury – supposedly the main ingredient for a “dirty bomb”.

But he told the jury at the outset: “The Crown’s position is that whether red mercury does or does not exist is irrelevant.”

He warned the jury not to get “hung up” on whether red mercury actually existed at all.

On May 26, court of appeal judges Lord Justice Rix and Lord Justice Moses grant Alin Turcu, leave to appeal his libel action against the Sunday tabloid after hearing evidence from Gashi. Justice Rix begins his judgment with the summary “This is a murky case” – notes that Gashi appears to have “changed sides”: “[Gashi] says that he has had a conversion and realises with guilt the error of his ways.” Noting the doubts over Gashi’s credibility, the judge nevertheless rules that his account is plausible enough “to raise some realistic prospect that his evidence might be received and accepted by this court on appeal”.

However, this cannot be reported until after the red mercury trial.

July 2006: After a three month trial costing £1m, defendants Fernandes, Kanyare and Martins are cleared of all charges related to red mercury dirty bomb plot and walk free after two years on remand.

Stephen Solley, QC, defending Mr Martins, accused Mazher Mahmood of misleading the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the courts. He said there was a “huge danger of accepting Mr Mahmood’s word in respect of any matter.” Before the trial began, in a pre-trial hearing for the case, Mr Solley had argued; “Mr B (key prosecution witness) created, through his activities with Mr Mahmood – who himself knew it was entirely a sham – a pincer movement so both their respective motives could be satisfied. These motives were money on the one hand and selling newspapers on the other. We submit that justice went out of the window.”

Florim Gashi is a key defence witness at the trial and tells the jury that he and Mahmood cooked up the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot. “Maz said I would get £10,000 and another £5,000 if they got prosecuted,” he told the court

In a statement, News of the World said: “The News of the World involvement in this investigation and subsequent trial was conducted under the direction of senior anti-terrorist police officers. We are entirely satisfied that the methods used in the investigation were not only wholly proper, but were both authorised and, from an early stage, continued in close liaison with the police.”

Scotland Yard said “it would not rule out working with the paper again”

August 2006: Operation Caryatid make their first and only arrests, Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire

Sept 2006: Operation Caryatid’s DCI Martin Sutrees meets Rebekah Brooks at RAC club London. Updates her that there are 100 to 110 “potential victims” phone hacking victims as well as informing her that she herself had been hacked.

January 2007: Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire found guilty of phone hacking of three members of the royal household. Mulcaire pleas guilty of hacking further five victims, supermodel Elle Macpherson, publicist Max Clifford, football agent Sky Andrew, and Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association. Both sentenced to 4 months and 6 months respectively.

Feb 2007: Turcu wins appeal for libel against against News Group Newspapers [News of the World] with the help of Gashi’s evidence claiming it was a set up.

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4 thoughts on “Other dark arts at the News of the World – Fake Sheikh investigated by police just before Phone Hacking operation

  1. Pingback: Did Coulson’s News of the World Incite Others to Crime and cause Unsafe Convictions? | Live Tweeting the hacking trial

  2. Pingback: bellingcat - Did Coulson’s News of the World Incite Others to Commit Crimes and Cause Unsafe Convictions?

  3. Pingback: More dark arts at the News of the World? Panorama investigate the Fake Sheikh | Live Tweeting the hacking trial

  4. Pingback: Mr Justice Saunders’ Sentencing remarks on Ian Edmondson | Live Tweeting the hacking trial

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