Has Mahmood been put out to graze in books?

Mazher Mahmood has announced that Harper Collins – owned by News International – will this autumn be publishing a book of his memoirs, Confessions of a Fake Sheikh.

A banal title, for sure, but perhaps Mazher has his eye on a movie deal – an extension of the Seventies’ comedy franchise in a humorous romp through the Wapping newsroom with Sanjeev Bhaskar in the title role?

For, as I discovered in researching the activities of the News of the World’s investigations editor, there is much to laugh at in deconstructing some of the stories the Fake Sheikh has produced over the last decade, unless you happen to be one of his targets.

So much so that a substantial section of my new book, News of the World? Fake Sheikhs & Royal Trappings, examines the way in which front-page splashes have been spun from ideas which he appears to have concocted and cast himself.

Respect

My motive for doing this wasn’t in any sense to participate in an ‘anti-tabloid rant”, as Mazher depicts Roy Greenslade’s continuing criticism of his methods, for I have a sound respect for the role of the balanced and thoughtful leaders that appear in some of our popular papers, and for the valuable role played by their investigative journalists in unearthing stories that are clearly in the public interest.

But the output of the NOTW contains a scant number of these, although I concede the role it played in uncovering institutionalised bullying in the Royal Marines in November 2005, for example; a valid scoop in February 2006 about British troops beating up unarmed Iraqi teenagers (although the revelatory home video had been brought to them by a ‘disgusted whistle-blower’rather than by any investigatory activity on their part), and even Mazher Mahmood’s success in identifying and delivering to a detention centre two bus loads (66) of illegal immigrants (some of the ‘231 criminals’he’s ‘helped to convict’in 17 years at the NOTW).

But to a non-journalist, the few constructive results are so overwhelmingly outweighed by dubious scare stories (like the ‘Red Mercury plot”) and prurient examination of the private lives of insignificant celebrities, that they go no way to justifying the paper’s repeated claims to be upholders of public interest.

Where prosecutions have been pursued at Mazher’s instigation, several couldn’t be stood up, as a costly waste of taxpayers’ funds in police and court time has shown. In the opinion of an experienced criminal QC, it can also be demonstrated that in actively requesting the purchase of cocaine from his celebrity targets, Mazher and his immediate bosses (who provided the money) are committing the offence of conspiracy to possess a controlled drug.

It’s puzzling to many members of the public that the paper has never been charged with these offences, especially when one of its highest-profile cocaine stings, in which DJ Johnnie Walker was eventually convicted of possessing 0.06 grams of cocaine – about a fiver’s worth – was the result of an inept attempt to smear a popular and harmless individual, for no reason other than making a good splash.

At the same time, celebrity tattle has become an internationally traded commodity, worth enough to have prompted Rupert Murdoch in the mid-Nineties to appoint a gossip columnist to the editor’s chair at the News of the World.

Stories of rapacious vicars, mendacious MPs and strippers at firemen’s balls have since been jettisoned in favour of reports of any vague misdemeanour that can be attached to a well-known face.

When, at the Society of Editors Conference last November, the current editor, Colin Myler, suggested that he would be urging his journalists, specifically Mazher Mahmood, to ease off producing tales of celebrities taking drugs and misbehaving, he said: ‘I think there are other issues that he [Mahmood] should be looking at – issues that affect the fabric of society, and we will see a bit more of that.”

Within two weeks of his avowed new direction, the paper’s lead story was Mazher’s account of model Sophie Anderton’s cocaine and sex-for-sale romp.

I have been scrupulously fair in my dissection of Mazher Mahmood’s output, quoting in my analysis only what the paper itself has published, but The Independent’s Pandora reported three weeks ago that Mazher had rung the publisher of my book to ‘demand a copy”, sending a courier to collect.

He didn’t return text messages but a News of the World colleague said: ‘Maz wasn’t approached, he didn’t cooperate, and he has found big chunks that are libellous. He is considering legal action.'”

I haven’t heard from him yet.

In his interview with Press Gazette last month, he claimed, apropos his failed sting on George Galloway, that the MP’s subsequent allegations were ‘completely false and unfounded”. Therefore, libellous. He hasn’t sued Galloway.

It looks now as if his bosses have recognised that Mazher Mahmood is no longer an asset and could become a liability, and they’ve decided to turn him out to graze in the safer pastures of the book world.

News of the World? Fake Sheikhs & Royal Trappings, by Peter Burden, is published by eye books priced £12.99

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