Caught: NoW’s Mahmood infiltrated gang
An exhaustive Press Complaints Commission inquiry has cleared the News of the World over its payment to a defendant in the Beckham kidnap plot trial.
The tabloid’s payment of £10,000 to co-defendant Florin Gashi was considered to be a factor when the trial of five men accused of plotting to kidnap Victoria Beckham collapsed in June.
But according to a PCC judgement issued this week, the payment did not break the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The code as it stood in 2002 forbade payments to “witnesses or potential witnesses in current criminal proceedings”.
The PCC inquiry found that Gashi was given a cheque for £10,000 on 4 November, 2002, two days after his arrest but just before his first appearance at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court.
The PCC decided that criminal proceedings as the code then stood could be interpreted to mean the first court appearance. The code has since been changed and the NoW payment would have broken the new rules.
The PCC now forbids paying witnesses once criminal proceedings are active as defined by the 1981 Contempt of Court Act – that is, once an arrest has been made.
The commission also investigated the NoWunder clause 17 of the code, which forbids making payments to criminals. It decided the rules weren’t broken because the payment was unrelated to Gashi’s previous crimes.
NoWinvestigations editor Mazher Mahmood told the PCC that he was first approached by Gashi in order to introduce him to a criminal gang which had carried out one successful robbery.
Mahmood infiltrated the group and said he then learnt that it was planning to kidnap Victoria Beckham. According to the NoW, Mahmood remained quiet throughout the planning, making no suggestions himself. After the NoWtipped off the police, the five were arrested in a dramatic swoop on 2 November.
Mahmood claims Gashi’s motive for acting as an informant was not money. He told the commission: “He felt that by helping us expose wrongdoing, he would strengthen his claim for political asylum in this country.”
Mahmood said the decision to pay Gashi £10,000 was made at the last minute in order to give him the means to leave London. He said: “I felt that had we not agreed to make the payment there was a definite risk that Gashi, fearing for his life, would have backed out at the final stage. The night before the arrest I had at least six long telephone conversations with Gashi to encourage him to go ahead.”
The release of this PCC adjudication was delayed for two months after the Attorney General intervened at the last minute, requesting more information about the case (Press Gazette, 18 July).
The Attorney General decided not to issue contempt of court proceedings against the NoW over the trial collapse.
An NoW spokesman said: “This finding is hardly surprising since both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service were fully informed of this payment, before deciding to bring the kidnap charges, which they later sensationally dropped.
“In accordance with our long-standing tradition, the News of the World co-operated fully with the police in the Beckham case and with the PCC in its subsequent inquiry. This newspaper will continue to pursue any investigation which has a clear public interest.”
By Dominic Ponsford