Freelance fears for life after gang jailed

An investigative journalist has accused the BBC and the Crown Prosecution Service of failing to protect the interests of freelance journalists after material from an undercover investigative programme was used in court to secure a conviction against a gang of Eastern European sex traffickers.

Muhamed Veliu, who in June won a £175,000 libel award at the High Court after a Kosovan newspaper wrongly accused him of being a terrorist, said the way in which he was treated has made him reconsider working undercover in the future.

Last week a gang of four was jailed for up to nine years each after being found guilty of trafficking a woman to the UK for prostitution. The case of the 35- year-old Lithuanian woman hit the headlines after she escaped from the brothel where she was being held by leaping 20ft from a window.

One of the gang’s ringleaders, Riza Hoxha, had been profiled in a BBC documentary, MacIntyre Investigates, broadcast in May 2002, to which Veliu contributed as an undercover reporter.

Veliu told Press Gazette: “Riza Hoxha’s people who are going free are going to be mad about that and try to kill me as a man who exposed him on the BBC, and now with the BBC programme he’s getting a conviction.”

According to Veliu, the police did not take any action after the original broadcast, but three years later Hoxha was again involved in trafficking a Lithuanian girl.

Veliu alleges that the CPS failed to contact him and his colleague who also worked undercover on the programme to inform them that it would be using the documentary as evidence and said that decision had effectively “signed a death warrant” for them because within the Albanian community revenge is common in such circumstances.

He said: “I have to think twice when I’m going to go undercover again for media organisations. Protecting the source, protecting the journalist who put their life on the line to investigate should be a priority for them.”

A CPS spokeswoman said: “It may be that the BBC came to us with that material or it may be that we sought a production order to get that material off them, which is something that happens occasionally. But I can’t see that we would then go into detail and say ‘who provided this footage, have you got the OK from them?’. His beef may end with the BBC and not with us.”

A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation was not at fault.“The programme was broadcast several years ago and has been in the public domain. The prosecution was completely separate. We understand footage from the programme was shown during the case.

"The undercover journalist featured in the programme was fully pixelated and his identity hidden. He was given security advice at the time of broadcast.”

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