Another anomaly from Mazher Mahmood‘s evidence at the Leveson inquiry that he never employed a private detective after his extensive work with Southern Investigations in the 90s.
This is from 2009 when Tom Watson was asking questions as a member of the DCMS select committee about News of the World phone hacking
Right up unto 2009, while at News of the World, Mahmood commissioned a private investigator to stalk Tom Watson MP at a Labour Party conference.
Watson told the Leveson Inquiry that Mahmood – known as the ‘Fake Sheikh – hired Derek Webb to trail him in 2009, to establish whether he was having an affair.
Watson was then a prominent member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee examining phone hacking at the News of the World. He claimed that News International had a vendetta against him after he spoke out against the company.
Webb – a former police officer and nicknamed ‘the silent shadow’ – followed Watson and another Labour MP for seven days during the Brighton conference, billing News of the World in excess of a £1000 for his services.
(Around the same time Webb was also surveilling key lawyers in the phone hacking scandal – Charlotte Harris and Mark Lewis)
Was this abortive investigation in the public interest or part of the task of the free press to expose corruption?
Or was it – like the legal moves involving the Attorney General and the Panorama expose of the Fake Sheikh – a politicized attempt to intimidate and silence critics through character assassination?
Read the emails below and come to your own conclusion:
Before Panorama airs at 7.30 tonight, after two delays, it might be worth looking at the background of MazHer Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, at News of the World under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks, from early 2000 to early 2003.
Mahmood’s activities in the decade leading up to this have been covered in a previous post about his connections with Southern Investigations. But the problems with that notorious private investigations firm, due to police inquiries and arrests of key personnel around this time, may explain what happened next.
Investigations were taken in house.
One of the first things Brooks did as editor of Britain’s best selling paper was to recall Greg Miskiw from New York, where he had set up office, and form an Investigations Team that worked outside both the Features and News Desk. From various bits of evidence show the floating membership from 2000 onwards to consist of:
James Harding, the corporation’s director of news and current affairs, told the Society of Editors earlier today that it “is a seriously good piece of work, extremely revealing and squarely in the public interest.
“But, he explained, “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 7 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.”
My understanding is that the information concerns just one specific allegation in Fake Sheikh: Exposed. The implications of that new matter provided by Mahmood’s lawyers, Kingsley Napley, are under consideration now.
Whatever the outcome, it is too minor a detail to affect the eventual screening of the documentary in which Panorama’s reporter, John Sweeney, interviews some of Mahmood’s former assistants. They cast light on Mahmood’s journalistic methods during his investigations.
THERE WAS one final piece of information Leveson was not prepared to consider.
This involved Mahmood’s links with a firm of private detectives called Southern Investigations.
One of the partners was a former Metropolitan Police detective sergeant, Sid Fillery.
Fillery had retired and joined Southern Investigations, taking the place of Daniel Morgan, a private detective brutally murdered in 1987.
The other partner was Jonathan Rees, who was arrested several times on suspicion of being involved in the murder.
He was never convicted
However, Rees was gaoled for 7 years in 2000 after he was caught planning a conspiracy with corrupt police detectives to plant drugs on an innocent woman to prove she was an unfit mother.
Fillery was convicted in 2003 of making fifteen indecent images of children.
His computer included photographs of two naked boys engaged in oral sex and another showing the anal penetration of a young girl.
Southern Investigations acted as brokers between corrupt police officers who wanted to sell sensitive information to newspapers, including the News of the World.
In his evidence to Leveson, Mahmood doesn’t name the firm but it appears to be Southern Investigations.He told the Inquiry:
” … I stopped working with them at the end of 1992 or early 1993 …”
However, in our statement we told the Leveson Inquiry we had seen documents seized during anti-corruption inquiries which suggested this also wasn’t true.
These documents revealed that in 1999 Rees and Fillery carried out “confidential inquiries” into “illegal immigration” after receiving a “request” from “Maz Mahmood”.
The invoice for this work, submitted in July 1999, was for £1,488.72 — one of the largest the firm raised in that year.
There were sea changes at the Metropolian Police Service MPS and at the News of the World NOTW as the 1990s came to a close.
The new MPS Commissioner – John Stevens – wanted to encourage positive press through a closer relationship with national newspapers. At NOTW a new editor – Rebekah Wade – had been appointed who was keen get headlines for their investigative exposés.
A new millenium needed a new modus operandi.
But there was a problem. NOTW could no longer use their favourite private detectives, Southern Investigations, as one of its owners had got a lengthy jail sentence for perverting the course of justice. Southern Investigations had been essential to NOTW, providing video surveillance equipment, bodyguards and customised information gathering.
In 1999, NOTW commissioned Southern to put then Deputy MPS Commissioner John Stevens under surveillance. This was on an unfounded and untrue tip that he was flying from London to Northumbria to visit a secret mistress. Whether this surveillance was with a view to publishing a story or whether it was to gain leverage is a contested point. In addition, NOTW may have used Southern investigations to put their own newspaper staff under surveillance
With Monday’s BBC1 Panorama documentary set to shed new light into the activities of News of the World‘s most famous reporter, Mazher Mahmood, the Fake Sheikh, it is worth going back over his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
Though Mahmood’s identity was concealed, his witness statements make for some eye opening reading.
Last year a senior police officer told me that Southern Investigations’ relationship with News of the World,”“was without question the maternity ward where the Dark Arts were born.”