News UK fired its undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood, known as the fake sheikh, after he was sentenced to 15 months in prison for conspiracy. Mahmood had been suspended since 2014 when the Tulisa trial was dismissed.
As iMediaEthics has reported, Mahmood and his driver were found guilty earlier this month of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Mahmood had reported for the Sun that UK pop star Tulisa Contostavlos was helping get him drugs. But, Mahmood had been posing as a producer and Tulisa said she thought she was auditioning for a movie role. Prosecutors brought charges against Tulisa because of Mahmood’s reporting, but the 2014 trial fell apart when the judge said Mahmood lied after he admitted to telling the driver what to say in his police statements.
Mahmood, who previously worked for News UK’s News of the World, was sentenced to 15 months on Oct. 21 with the judge, Gerald Gordon, saying Mahmood was motivated “to preserve and enhance your reputation.” His driver, Alan Smith, received a 12-month sentence.
According to the BBC, Gordon said Mahmood was the person with the “idea” for Smith to change his statement. “You were the intended beneficiary and you made use of a loyal person, partly an employee, in order to achieve your purpose.”
Gordon went on,
“You wanted another scalp and Miss Contostavlos’s conviction would have achieved that.
“And to achieve that, when you saw a problem, you were prepared for the court to be deceived.”
A News UK spokesperson told iMediaEthics Friday that “his employment has been terminated” after his sentencing. News UK noted that it was “great regret” that he had to be fired given that some of Mahmood’s previous investigations uncovered “criminality and wrongdoing.” News UK also said that it would defend any legal challenges against it in light of Mahmood’s prosecution and questions regarding his other investigations.
Mahmood’s lawyer, John Kelsey-Fry said in court that Mahmood was “a very frightened man” because his work had led to others being sent to prison. “Mahmood is not expected to be the most welcome, nor the most popular, inmate,” Kelsey-Fry said, according to the Guardian.
“Following Mahmood’s conviction, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped a number of live cases and reviewed 25 past convictions,” the Guardian reported. “Six have been taken up by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).”
In a statement sent to iMediaEthics, the Joint Executive Director of Hacked Off, an advocacy group for victims of press abuse in the UK, Dr. Evan Harris said,
“Red flags were raised about the reliability of Mazher Mahmood’s stings over decades but the police ignored them.
“Given the number of appeals against convictions that the Metropolitan Police Service and Crown Prosecution Service secured on the basis of the evidence of this convicted liar, the need for the Second Part of the Leveson Inquiry – which would include looking at the relationship between the press and the police – is overwhelmingly clear.”
The full News UK statement reads:
“Following the sentencing of Mazher Mahmood today, News UK can confirm that his employment has been terminated. Mazher was suspended after the Tulisa Contostavlos trial collapsed, pending an internal inquiry. That inquiry was superseded by the criminal process.
Mazher has led scores of successful investigations during his 25-year career with the company. His work has led to the exposure of criminality and wrongdoing. It is a source of great regret that his time with the company should end in this manner.
“The previous criminal cases that have resulted from his investigations were tested by the courts or guilty pleas were entered. We are aware that the Crown Prosecution Service has reviewed some cases and understand that the Criminal Cases Review Commission is looking at whether a small number of matters should be referred back to the Court of Appeal. We await their decisions.
“We have noted the threats made after Mazher’s conviction of civil claims against this company in relation to his previous work. Should such claims be brought, they will be vigorously defended.“