Banks' Notes 28.07.06

TWO juries, five months apart, sit in judgment on one defendant.

Their verdicts, while hardly compatible, are not entirely dissimilar.

And both judgments require sombre reflection on the part of the “accused”, whose way of life might just have to change.

When three men walked free from the Old Bailey this week, cleared of all charges of terrorist conspiracy, there was little doubt that the real villain of the piece was clearly perceived to have been their accuser, the News of the World.

Similarly, the judgment of that newspaper’s peers in the British Press Awards last spring was perhaps moulded by a mild distaste for its methods. Nominated in half-a-dozen categories where it might have felt itself in strong contention – Front Page of the Year, Young Journalist, Sports Journalist, Critic and Showbiz Writer – the NoW garnered but one plaudit: the Cudlipp Award for excellence in popular journalism.

That, in Scots judicial parlance, is the iffy journalistic equivalent of “Not Proven”. Prestigious as it is, the Cudlipp Award went to the NoW and its inspirational young editor Andy Coulson as long-overdue recognition of their place at the top of Fleet Street’s compost heap.

After all, 3,552,119 Sunday purchasers can’t all be wrong, can they?

But even that limp laurel wreath looked blooming marvellous by comparison with the Old Bailey jury’s dismissal of the charges brought by the NoW’s own Clown Prosecution Service, the “fake sheikh” Mazher Mahmood.

Despite Judge Peter Beaumont’s instruction to the jury to consider the charges and not its distaste for the fake sheikh’s methods – “You are,” he said, “not some sort of posse, empowered to punish the newspaper” – 12 true men and women most likely relished the opportunity to cut Mazher Mahmood down to size.

It is all very well for the News of the World to express disappointment at the defendants’

acquittals and to strongly defend its “thorough and legitimate investigation” conducted under the direction of senior anti-terrorist police officers, but since when has stooging for dodgy, bodgy coppers been any guarantee of journalistic success?

Face facts, ladies and gentlemen of the jury of his peers, the past couple of years have been rough ones for Maz and his methods – the farce of the Beckham kidnap plot (which collapsed in court), the foiled stitch-up of gleeful George Galloway (who collapsed with mirth)

and now this latest ignominy.

Time, perhaps, to hang up the Arab robes, shave off the goatee beard and resume the rather less theatrical, but certainly more honest role of investigative reporter?

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