Did Mazher Mahmood mislead Leveson about the Dark Arts of his Past?

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.

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The ‘particular firm’ Mahmood mentions, used regularly by News of the World executives Greg Miskiw and Alex Marunchak, was none other than Southern Investigations.

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.”

The Cradle of the Dark Arts

Daniel Morgan, the founder of the company, was murdered in a South London car park after he threatened to expose police corruption in March 1987.

One of the first investigating officers, Sergeant Sid Fillery, left the Met to take over Daniel’s job.  Southern Investigations became one of the most prolific private detective agencies in Fleet Street, described by Vikram Dodd and Nick Davies as the centre of “an Empire of Corruption”.

According to the Guardian Southern investigations provided material, mainly for News of the World, through a variety of illegal means, including paying police officers for confidential records, obtaining phone records, car registration details, banks account details, and allegedly using ‘Trojan Horse’ emails to hack computers. According to two sources, the firm “commissioned burglaries to obtain material for journalists.”

Southern Investigations were reputed to have been involved in the bugging of conservative minister David Mellor which exposed his affair with an actress (he had previously described the press as “drinking in the last chance saloon” after a furore about press intrusion). According to Laurie Flynn and Michael Gillard in their increasingly relevant book Untouchables:

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Mahmood opens his autobiography, Confessions of a Fake Sheikh, with an exciting account of his involvement in that famous press sleaze scoop against Mellor.

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Fillery, the former police officer who took over Daniel’s role at Southern Investigations, was allegedly an early partner of the Fake Sheikh

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To Lord Justice Brian Leveson, Mahmood said he worked on “20 or so stories” with Southern Investigations, and that he “stopped working with them at the end of 1992 or early 1993”.

But like Mahmood’s evidence about the number of convictions he had secured this seems to be misleading

More Connections with Southern Investigations

According to the Untouchables Mahmood was working on the same stories as Southern Investigations at News of the World well into the nineties.

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Jim Cusick at the Independent reported Southern Investigations provided two bodyguards for Mazher Mahmood when he appeared as a witness over the Alford prosecution at Snaresbrook Crown Court in 1999

Southern Investigations was also being paid by the NOTW to protect Mr Mahmood. Known as the “king of the sting”, his lucrative contract with the paper entitled him to a support crew which included the services of two bodyguards.

One of his undercover operations ended with the former London’s Burning star, John Alford, being sentenced to nine months in jail for supplying cocaine and cannabis. The trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court heard that the actor had been taken in by “an elaborate, well-planned subterfuge”. He was filmed in London’s Savoy hotel, handing over drugs to Mr Mahmood, who was posing as an Arabian prince.

As part of Mr Mahmood’s deal with the NOTW, he was allowed personal protection in public places. He hired Southern Investigations to be his “bodyguards” during the Alford trial, and on other occasions.

The defence QC in another trial from a Maz drugs sting, Lord Hardwicke, pointed out the “couple of heavies” in the public gallery the same year.

Alun Jones QC. Do you want to tell us what bonuses you get at the News of the World?

Mazher Mahmood. Sadly I get no bonuses. I get paid exactly the same amount whether I sit in the office, write soft stories, or expose criminals and get death threats.

AJ. You get death threats?

MM. That’s right. My parents get their homes macheted.

AJ. Yes. Are you being a bit theatrical, Mr Mahmood?

MM. No, I’m not, I’m telling you the truth.

AJ. Can I ask about one or two people in the gallery. You have had a couple of heavies at court this week with you, have you not?

MM. Is that what you call them?

AJ. What do you call them?

MM. I’ve had a driver and I’ve had one minder.

AJ. And they have been sitting in court every day right at the back of the public gallery, have they not?

MM. That’s correct.

AJ. Why?

MM. For my protection, so I don’t get intimidated as I have been in previous court cases.

AJ. Those two men; is their only function in fact to prevent you from being seen or photographed by the press when you go outside court?

MM. That’s correct, yes.

AJ. That is their function?

MM. Partially, yes.

AJ. That is their only function?

MM. Well because I work undercover and I don’t want my photograph appearing in newspapers.

AJ. Have you taken any legal advice about the question of whether it is lawful for you and others in the News of the World to agree to be concerned in the supply to yourselves of cocaine, a class A drug?

MM. Yes, I have.

AJ. From whom?

MM. I’ve spoken to our legal manager at the News of the World.

AJ. Did that man say to you: “Yes, it’s perfectly all right for private citizens to be engaged in the supply to themselves of cocaine, provided they have a good motive”?

MM. Well I won’t go into that conversation because I don’t remember it to be honest, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with journalists exposing drug dealers, and as I said my work’s been praised by two different home secretaries.

AJ. Which home secretary has ever said either to you in private or in public that a private citizen representing an organisation of the size of News International, the Murdoch press, is entitled to buy cocaine and to be concerned in the supply of cocaine? Which home secretary or policeman has ever said that to you?

MM. Well your clients are pleading not guilty to having supplied me any cocaine at all, so I don’t know where you’re coming from quite frankly. But no, I’ve not had a discussion with the home secretary about supply of cocaine, no, I haven’t.

AJ. Which home secretaries have suggested to you that the subject matter of my questions to you is all right? Or are you just trying to divert the question?

MM. I’m not trying to divert the question, I’m saying that they’re fully aware of the work we do and have endorsed it. So I’ve not had a chat with the home secretaries about the supply of cocaine and how they think we should operate, but no action’s ever been taken against us and in fact we’ve been praised. I’ve got 98 criminal convictions as a result of my work, so I must be doing something right.

AJ. How do we test that boast please, Mr Mahmood, 98 convictions? How do we test it?

MM. We’ve published it on numerous occasions.

There are various suggestions as to the identity of these heavies: I will update as I can .

Maz and the Cook-Hames Surveillance in 2002.

Former senior Scotland Yard officer John Yates, who oversaw the fifth investigation  from 2006-2011, and calls the Morgan murder “one of the most, if not the most shameful episodes in Scotland Yard’s history.” , provides another link back to Mazher who was working with Greg Miskiw at the special investigations unit of the News of the World, set up by Rebekah Brooks when she became editor

The panel will also pay particular attention to the role played by Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook. He led the case from 2002 and did more than anyone to bring the right people to justice. A feisty and outspoken individual, he was also an extremely able and committed detective. Most importantly, he won the trust and respect of the family. Disturbingly, he provides an astonishing link between Southern Investigations, the News of the World and phone-hacking when, in July 2011, it was revealed that the paper had used the detective agency to tail Det Ch Supt Cook and his wife at the height of his involvement in leading the murder investigation.

As Nick Davies revealed in the Guardian, the hacking and surveillance of Dave Cook and Jacqui Hames was commissioned by Sid Fillery, and organised by Greg Miskiw and other at the News of the World. 

One of the vehicles tailing Cook from his home in August 2002 was a blue Vauxhall Combo van driven by a News of the World freelance photographer called Bradley Page.

Page worked with the Fake Sheikh several times according to Mahmood’s autobiography, on a sting on the actors Michelle Collins and Sean Bean.

According to the book by photojournalist Steve Grayson (who was Page’s Father-in-Law), Mahmood ensured that Bradley took over his job as  Senior Investigations Photographer at News of the World in 1999.

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Former journalist Graham Johnson (who pleaded guilty to phone hacking this week at Westminster magistrates court) confirms this account in his vivid account of News of the World, Hack.

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More Disclosure to Come

Now that the Daniel Morgan Panel Inquiry is underway, there should be more disclosure of this dark period in British journalism  during which private investigators, corrupt police and journalists created what former prime minister Gordon Brown called the “criminal-media nexus”

The Daniel Morgan murder panel of experts will examine not only the police corruption that sabotaged five successive police investigations and caused the subsequent murder trial to collapse, but also the “connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and corruption involved in the linkages between them.”

Labour MP Tom Watson said of the panel inquiry when it was initiated by Theresa May in 2013,“By the end of this process we should know more about a very opaque period in British history when corrupt police, private investigators, and tabloid journalists worked together.”

Cross posted at Bellingcat. If you wish to support the work of this blog do please donate if you can using the button to your left. 

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11 thoughts on “Did Mazher Mahmood mislead Leveson about the Dark Arts of his Past?

  1. These emails crack open the News Corporation Phone Hacking mystery and prove the U.S. HP Phone hacking in 2006 was part of the UK Phone hacking. Why do UK reporters continue to ignore the obvious?

    June 19, 2006 at 1:18PM, Tom Perkins emails HP Counsel Sonsini, Subject: HP Confidential, stating,

    “Today I was at a NewsCorp board meeting in London, and I discussed the events of the most recent HP board meeting, with a fellow director, Viet Dinh, as you probably know, Viet is a professor of Law at Georgetown, and his most popular course is “Corporate Governance.”

    “Viet was shocked at the HP chairman’s recording of board members telephone and computer inter-connections. I emphasized that no communications were actually transcribed. He said that even monitoring connections and/or e-mail addresses requires a subpoena (which as far as I know was never obtained) but, with or witheout a subpoena, such monitoring was simply “unconscionable.”

    ii. June 20, 2006 at 10:00AM, Tom Perkins emails HP Counsel Sonsini, Subject:RE: HP Confidential,

    “the investigation was “unknown to the board, except perhaps in the most vague and imprecise terms, with the possible exception of Mark, who she may have briefed. “

    “In view of Viet’s unqualified opinion that it was illegal, I think, the board needs to know the potential risks, if any. I resigned from the board and as chair of the N&G committee before I could look into this personally. If it was illegal, it occurred under my purview, and on my watch, so to speak, and I would like to know whether or not I share some responsibility.”

    iii. July 18, 2006 at 3:22AM, TOM PERKINS emails Sonsini, Mark Hurd, and Ann Baskins, Subject: “RE: Minutes”, and states,

    “Thank you for sending the draft minutes of the May 18th meeting.”
    “As written the minutes state that I concurred in the nature of the investigation –it is not true. I was under the impression that the investigation involved examining calendars, travel schedules, and such. I had no idea that personal communications were involved and had I known that this was the case I would have brought the matter (of the intrusive nature of the investigation) to the board, for full examination, well in advance of this May 18th meeting.”

    iv. July 28, 2006, at 1:52PM, Tom Perkins emails Sonsini, Baskins, Babbio, Sbaldauf, Dunn, Hurd, Hammergren, and others, Subect: Confidential: May 18th HP Board of Directors Meeting.

    “Dear Ann and HP Board Members”;” the essential point to be acknowledged is that the sub-rosa surveillance of the HP Board member’s personal communications was, and is, illegal. I attach a memo from Larry Sonsini, in which he acknowledges that HP hired consultants who engaged in ‘pretextings,” a practice using an illegal misrepresentation – the pretext- of identity to carrier companies in order ot obtain confidential telecommunications records. This is a fraudulent practice. Interestingly, HP has on its board an expert in the matter, namely Larry Babbio, whose company Verison, has testied before the F.C.C. on the illegality of the practice, and has filed suits against consultants who engage in “pretexting”;”That the illegal pretext was done by a consultant is no excuse or defense to HP, which authorized, induced, and benefited from the illegal fraud.”

    “As Chairman of HP’s Nominating and Governance Committee, had I been informed of these illegal activities prior to the May 18th meeting, I would have stopped them, or failing that, brought them to the attention of the full board. Now, I must insist that the HP board undertake a full investigation of the practices, via an independent committee of the board (not including the Chairman, who initiated the illegal behavior) and take whatever disclosure and/or corrective action is required.
    This is an extremely serious matter, and I have engaged counsel for advice. I attach a copy of his CV from the Georgetown U. Law School, where he is a professor. I did not resign from the board for frivolous reasons, but because HP was standing into dangerous waters –waters hazardous with both illegal and unconscionable governance practices- and because my advice was being ignored.”

    v. October 9, 2006, Maria Bartiromo CNBC interview states, “Viet Dinh represents Tom Perkins”;”He is generally credited with authoring the controversial USA Patriot Act.”

    “How did you first learn of the spying at HP? Tom Perkins approached me at a News Corp. (NWS) dinner and asked me for advice. [Both Perkins and Dinh are on the News Corp. board] He laid out a rather dramatic tale about how he had just resigned from HP in protest over an investigation “

    “Do you have any sense of how widespread snooping on employees or even journalists is in Corporate America?

    Not as a general matter, but my phone has been ringing quite steadily since the publicity about HP-matters relating to pretexting and spying on competitors”

    “the silver lining to this episode is that everyone in Corporate America is on notice that this type of activity has no place in our country, and least of all in corporate leadership.”

    “You mean rival companies to HP are calling you?

    Well, some rival companies, but more so other companies unrelated to HP who think competitors have been spying on them. They also are worried about pretexting their employees.”

    “You’re widely considered the chief architect of the Patriot Act. Do you see any irony that you are a voice of outrage over alleged privacy violations at HP? No. There is a distinct difference between the government using its power of subpoena and search warrants to protect America against security threats and private citizens and companies breaking the law in order to pursue their own interests and personal agendas.”

    vi. Decmber 6, 2006, Susan Beck writes “Where will the Troubles End for Sonsini” for the American Lawyer, stating,

    “Perkins’ version of the boardroom discussions is supported by an e-mail he sent a week later, on May 31, to the directors of News Corp. Perkins, who also sits on the News Corp. board, explained in the message that he wanted to “spike the rumors” about why he resigned from the HP board. “(This email was turned over to Congress)”

    “One of the people who got this message was Dinh, who is also a News Corp. director and chairs that company’s corporate governance committee. (Dinh was not representing Perkins at the time he resigned.) Dinh told Perkins that the gathering of third party phone records was illegal and unconscionable. (At this point, Perkins and Dinh did not know that pretexting was involved. )) Dinh, as it turns out, is one of the nation’s legal expers on surveillance tactics. A former assistant attorney general for legal policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, the 38-year-old is credited with authoring the Patriot Act.

    “The day after recieving that letter, Dinh opted to get the power of the government behind him. He called the SEC’s deputy general counsel of enforcement, told him about this dispute and gave him the e-mails and letters that had bounced back and forth between him, his client, HP and Sonsini. He also contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco and the California attorney general to tell them about the prexting.”

    “The corporate law professor objected to the choice of Wilson Sonsini to do an investigation. In an Aug 23 letter to Sonsini’s partner, Boris Feldman, Dinh questioned how the firm could legitimately investigate events that involved the “key participation” of its Chairman: “My personal respect for your and Mr. Sonsini’s legal ability and professional integrity does not mitigate the conflicts of interest arising from your firm’s longstanding relationship as counsel to [HP].”

    “I only know one way to practice law, and that is to call things the way I see it,” said Dinh.”

    “Over a Washington, D.C. lunch in which Dinh quickly downed three glasses of wine, three orders of oysters and a seafood gumbo, the former government lawyer recalled he was startled when Perkins first told him about the leaks investigation, “I had an instant and almost instinctive recognition [of illegal investigative methods],” he recalls. “Title Three of the Omnibus Crime Act prescribes that [the government] must get judicial approval for a [telephone] track and trace device, and [access to] phone records requires a subpoena or a search warrant. He states, “I could not see how a private entity could get such access without consent.”

    “Dinh stresses that he called the authorities only after months of trying to get HP to do the right thing. “There is literally no internal corporate governance mechanism that can substitute for this type of sunshine,” he notes.

    Associated Press article “Ex-HP Director’s Book Opens With Scandal” on November 6, 2007 states,

    “Tom Perkins co-founded the firm that helped spawn Google, Amazon, and Genetech.”; “And his resignation from Hewlett-Packard Co.’s board revealed the spying that rocked the Silicon Valley Institution. The venture capitalist has been relatively quiet since the effort by HP’s hired security consultants to ferret out boardroom leaks by spying on employees, media and directors exploded last year.”

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