Staff at a small Welsh weekly newspaper helped to get a conman convicted after they reacted with scepticism to a claim that Ali G would open their local carnival.
The Milford & West Wales Mercury (circulation 6,268) received a press release in June 2002 from Haverfordwest Round Table saying that Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy character Ali G would open the carnival the following month.
The man behind the booking was Tom Sinclair, then managing director of a company called Evolution Events Promotion. Sinclair also claimed Ali G would attend a music event to be held by Evolution Events Promotion following the carnival, with tickets priced £8.
Mercury senior reporter Lee Day said: “The press release was printed word for word in rival media but, quite simply, we just didn’t believe it.
“Ali G had presented the MTV Awards weeks before and opening a small town carnival seemed unlikely at best for a man who was one of the most famous people in Britain at the time.”
News editor Richard Harris and Day investigated the matter and contacted Cohen’s agents, who confirmed no such booking had been made. Cohen was not even going to be in the country at the time.
The Mercury then contacted Sinclair, who insisted the booking was legitimate and had been made via a company called Zero 1, which supposedly specialised in booking stars without involving their official agents.
Sinclair even brought a contract confirming the booking into the Mercury’s offices.
However, staff at the newspaper remained sceptical and printed an article casting doubts over the booking.
The story alerted Pembrokes hire County Council’s trading standards department, which began its own investigation. Sinclair subsequently stood trial charged with making a false claim.
During the trial it emerged that he had tried to book an Ali G lookalike, named Dat Ali Gee, to pass off as the real thing.
Cohen gave evidence via a written statement that he had “never heard of the defendant” and could only be booked through his official agents.
Sinclair was convicted and sentenced last week to 40 hours of community service.
Day said: “It is satisfying that what started as a simple case of journalists having a hunch that something may not be right ended up securing a conviction.
“It was made all the more satisfying by the fact that while others had been taken in by the scam we questioned the facts and were proved right.”
Pictured left: Sinclair’s scam was rumbled when sceptical Mercury staff checked the carnival booking with Ali G’s agents.
By Dominic Ponsford