Sunday Times editor John Witherow has defended the appointment of former News of the World investigations editor Mazher Mahmood and said the paper carried out checks before hiring him.
Witherow hired Mahmood shortly after the News of the World was closed down as a result of the phone-hacking scandal in July.
Mahmood has denied any knowledge of phone-hacking during his 20 years at the defunct title, most recently at the trial into an alleged corruption among the Pakistan cricket team.
Speaking at a joint committee hearing on privacy and injunctions yesterday, Witherow said the paper had carried out background checks before Mahmood – who won scoop of the year and news reporter of the year at the 2011Press Awards – before hiring him.
‘Clearly we checked him out very carefully and needed reassurances that he wasn’t involved in any way with the phone-hacking, which he assured us he wasn’t, and independently we were assured he wasn’t,’he said.
‘As far as I’m aware the police have no interest in him, so that has been very important before we took him on.
‘He has an exemplary record I think on these sorts of stories, he’s created I think about 250 prosecutions of people for exposing criminality. So, yes, we were concerned but I think he’s remarkable, a remarkable operator of that form of journalism.”
Asked by the chair of the committee, John Whittingdale MP, whether he had read Peter Burden’s book ‘News of the World?: Fake Sheikhs and Royal Trappings’, which contains allegations about the tactics employed by Mahmood during his undercover stings, Witherow said he was ‘aware of some of the allegations”.
But asked if they were sufficient to make him question the appointment, he replied that “because of the checks we did we were comfortable that what he’d done in the past was fine”.
In Sunday’s edition of the paper Mahmood exposed an accident claims firm which allegedly told undercover reporters how to submit false insurance claims for car damage and personal injuries worth at least £6,000, resulting in the arrest of five men.