34. Sheikh Your Moneymaker
Well well well, the biter bit.
Mazher Mahmood, scourge of the wrong doers, self-proclaimed moral guardian of the tabloid classes, has had his pants pulled down in Southwark Crown Court. Some would say not before time. The general tenor of the reaction to the collapse of the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos, a woman who the red tops have been desperate to put ‘back in her place’ for years for having the gall to be ambitious (albeit talentless) working class and upwardly mobile (a common tabloid tactic) for an £800 coke deal has varied.
Joe Public, via social media, has reacted by essentially painting the singer* as a Robin Hood figure, and Mahmood as pond scum. An understandable reaction, if a little facile given that her co-defendant Mike GLC (who names themselves after a council for fuck’s sake? Ok, Paul Merton, but who else? OK, Michael Bolton I’m getting lost here aren’t I?) pled guilty to supplying the drugs.
Media types, who perhaps know more about Mahmood and his practices than the rest of us, have been a bit more circumspect. Roy Greenslade, an old school hack (you’d think after Milly Dowler they’d give themselves another nickname don’t you?) was hinting at various misdemeanours and stitch ups, even going so far as to hint that he left swiftly from the Sunday Times under a cloud earlier in his career.
You see Mahmood operates in the shady hinterland of the undercover reporter, and sometimes, it is alleged, he goes beyond the bounds of what’s ethical to get people to either reveal secrets to him, or either commit or offer to commit criminal acts. One of his favourite methods is to entice his mark with the promise of untold wealth or career advancement or both if they’ll just do this little thing for him….
Contostavlos insisted throughout the duration of this case that she had been entrapped and only pretended an interest in drugs to play up to a “bad girl” image seemingly sought by the producers for the role in the ‘major Hollywood production’ that Mahmood’s ‘Bollywood producer’ was dangling in front of her.
(If she deserves to go to prison for anything it’s thinking there’s any universe where she’s more suitable for a film role than Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley. No wonder his scams work. How blinded by greed and ambition was she to swallow that?)
He’s done this before of course. Several trials resulting from his “investigations” have collapsed, including the prosecutions of five men he alleged to have plotted to kidnap Victoria Beckham in 2000; his story claiming three men were trying to build a “dirty bomb” in 2004; and the quashing of a conviction in 2010 of an Albanian immigrant for supplying drugs.
The Hardwicke trial in 1999, where he got the Earl convicted of drug dealing was notable for the fact that the jury sent a note to the judge explaining that they had convicted the man with great reluctance because Mahmood had used “extreme provocation” to induce Hardwicke to supply cocaine. The judge agreed and passed a suspended sentence.
Any good he did by exposing the Pakistani match fixing allegation is sadly eclipsed by the tsunami of complaints from victims of his schemes that he has lied. He difference here is that Tulisa was able to prove it. Now he’s on thin ice at The Sun, and from what I can work out not many will mourn his career as an investigative reporter if it’s over.
I certainly won’t. Print media is knackered as it is, and while good writing will always find a home this kind of nonsense will simply give supporters of Leveson succour, despite the fact that blindly bringing in its recommendations will throw the baby out with the bathwater. (For example, a lot of the evidence used to make you really angry at your MP for fiddling his expenses was gained using various dark arts. Do we outlaw that because no celebrities were involved? Where’s the line?)
Finally, consider this. Mahmood doesn’t operate a scattergun approach. He doesn’t go to these lengths to work on someone without having some reliable intelligence. He set up a sting to entrap Tulisa because he ‘knew’ she was involved in coke dealing. Unfortunately ‘knowing’ isn’t enough in a court of law, and he came unstuck trying to manipulate the facts to fit the story he wanted to tell, and did it so badly that a guilty plea had to be overturned, and for that he can fuck off and join Captain Cash in the bargain bin of tabloid history.
*ok, a bit of licence there; work with me.