Sun reporter Mazher Mahmood has been denied permission to appeal a failed injunction that would have prevented the BBC from broadcasting recent images of him.
The Panorama expose, presented by John Sweeney, is due to air at 8.30pm this evening.
- July 28, 2021
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Update (8.30am): The BBC opted to broadcast an alternative edition of Panorama, seemingly at the 11th hour.
Mahmood failed in court on Friday in his bid for an injunction against the corporation, but his legal representatives were heard in the Court of Appeal this afternoon.
However, Lord Justice Elias and Lady Justice Sharp refused the ‘Fake Sheikh’ permission to appeal.
The court heard this afternoon of evidence from Panorama editor Ceri Thomas, submitted today, in which he said Mahmood “has no entitlement to anonymity” and that “there is a public interest in his appearance being revealed”.
Thomas said the Panorama programme would "expose [Mahmood's] lack of journalistic integrity, particularly when deploying his undercover disguises".
The BBC looks set to go ahead with broadcast as things stand despite the Attorney General asking the corporation to "consider whether it is in the public interest for the BBC to broadcast" the programme while Mahmood is under police investigation. He has not been arrested, so contempt of court restrictions do not apply.
The programme, described by Mahmood's counsel, Justin Rushbrooke QC, as a "hatchet job", aims to shed light on the methods used by the reporter who exposed various personalities while working at the now defunct News of the World, using his disguise as a sheikh.
He was criticised after the collapse of the drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos in July, when a judge said there were grounds to believe he had lied.
Mahmood, who denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged, is currently suspended by The Sun and a number of cases in which he was set to be a witness have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service while investigations continue
The injunction he sought would have covered any images taken since 5 April 2006 not already in the public domain.
His lawyers said that he lived a reclusive life in secure accommodation with 24-hour surveillance and where his neighbours did not know his real identity.
But, Manuel Barca QC, for the BBC, said that his identity was no secret and the case was not about any fears for his safety but about protecting his livelihood and the shelf life of his professional stock-in-trade.
Counsel said the public interest was self-evident, not least in the context of the Contostavlos trial.
The appeal judges agreed with High Court judge Sir David Eady that Mahmood had not shown that any risk to him would be materially increased by the use of recent images, given that his identity was known and that a "welter" of pictures of him existed, albeit that some were pixillated.
Thomas said: "[Mahmood] has been accused, including by the judiciary, of very serious wrongdoing, namely interfering with the administration of justice and lying on oath, and concern has even been raised by Sir David Eady in the context of these proceedings regarding evidence previously given by [Mahmood] to the courts in the context of a similar application for injunctive relief." This refers to Mahmood's failed attempt to prevent MP George Galloway from publishing photographs of him on his website.
Thomas said in his statement that while claims made by a judge in the trial of singer Tulisa Contostavlos have not been proven, the judge "was sufficiently satisfied to halt the trial".
He said that "other allegations touching on [Mahmood's] integrity have also been made by individuals who have been targets of [his] particular brand of journalism in the past".
Thomas said: "While [Mahmood] has been suspended from his work and it is said that he is no longer undertaking undercover journalism, it is not said that he is not undertaking journalism or other work of any kind.
"There is also nothing in his evidence to suggest that he has given up hope of returning to his previous style of 'undercover' reporting should he not be charged with (or else acquitted of) any criminal offence in the wake of the current police investigation."
The Panorama editor added that the public "are entitled to be able to identify" Mahmood "by both his name and his appearance as someone who has been so accused".
"Since the programme is concerned to expose [Mahmood's] lack of journalistic integrity, particularly when deploying his undercover disguises, it is clearly in the public interest for his appearance to be revealed."
Adam Speker and Rushbrooke, of 5RB, for Mahmood, told the court of the danger Mahmood believed recent images could cause to him and his family, citing police warnings over his safety and a threat from a convicted murderer.
But Thomas said: "As a journalistic organisation the BBC takes the intimidation of and threats to journalists incredibly seriously.
"Sadly, these are issues that the BBC and its journalists around the world are forced to deal with on an all too regular basis.
"For these reason, the BBC has not taken its decision lightly that it is right to reveal [Mahmood's] appearance when faced with the assertion that to do so would pose a threat to his safety.
"However, it remains the case that [Mahmood] has not established that there is any real and immediate threat ti his life and there is a clear public interest in his appearance being revealed."