By Dominic Ponsford
MP George Galloway and journalism professor Roy Greenslade have launched an extraordinary campaign to destroy the career of arguably Britain’s most famous investigative journalist — News of the World "fake sheikh" Mazher Mahmood.
The pair were thwarted in a bid to publish photos of Mahmood — whose appearance is a closely guarded secret — by a High Court injunction from the NoW on Tuesday afternoon. But at a Westminster press conference, they made a series of damning allegations about Mahmood’s undercover methods — including the suggestion that he is linked to intimidation and threats.
Galloway was the target last week of one of the NoW reporter’s trademark undercover stings.
According to Galloway, Mahmood posed as an Indian businessman and, along with an accomplice, encouraged him to make anti- Semitic comments and take illegal payments for his party, Respect. Shortly after the meeting at the Dorchester Hotel, Galloway claimed he knew the men were "imposters"
all along — and said he had reported their "criminal behaviour" to the police.
Now Galloway has obtained two pictures of Mahmood. One apparently shows him wearing his trademark "fake sheikh" outfit.
The other is a black and white headshot taken, according to Galloway, from a Czech passport in the name of Pervais Khan, allegedly a Mahmood alias.
Galloway circulated the photos at Tuesday’s press conference and said he had sent copies to other MPs and "to Her Majesty the Queen’s private secretary for distribution throughout the royal household".
He said: "The time has come to expose this man to the wider world."
The picture briefly appeared on the Respect Party website on Tuesday afternoon — only to be taken down, following the NoW injunction. But the Czech passport shot is still viewable on at least two websites.
Former Daily Telegraph media commentator Greenslade sat alongside Galloway at the press conference and — referring to an incident in 1988 when he was Sunday Times managing editor — said: "I sacked Mazher Mahmood when I was at The Sunday Times for an act of gross dishonesty."
He added: "He’s extremely quick-witted and sharp. That’s why it’s extraordinary that he was so clumsy in his attempt to set up George Galloway."
Galloway has previously condemned Mahmood’s role in thwarting a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham in November 2002.
He said: "There are clear signs that he engages not just in subterfuge, which can be employed in the public interest, [but] he engages in the use of agents provocateurs, inciting crimes to occur, which he can then report on. I believe he dreams up crimes for other people to commit or for agents provocateurs to make them contemplate. The clearest example was the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot that wasn’t. It’s clear that Mazher Mahmood needs to be stopped."
Greenslade revealed that last year he interviewed Florim Gashi, Mahmood’s informant for the Beckham kidnap plot story, and alleged that afterwards Gashi was subjected to threats.
He said: "I was unable to report everything he said because the News of the World’s lawyers have harried every publication in which I’ve tried to get this published.
"I interviewed him in Croatia and I drove him straight from my interview into the arms of Scotland Yard [officers] who spent three hours interviewing him."
Greenslade wrote a piece for The Guardian last October based on the interview and said that, shortly after the NoW was contacted for a comment, Gashi said he was threatened over the telephone by Mahmood’s cousin and minder — known as ‘Jaws’ because of his gold teeth.
Greenslade said: "He sets up people. This is not legitimate journalism, he works in the dark.
"This is a man of the dark and anything to expose him is for the good of British journalism."
Galloway said that his spokesman, Ron Mackay, was threatened by five men sitting in a car when he attended a pre-arranged meeting at a restaurant in Brick Lane, east London, on Monday night.
Mackay said: "The guy on the driver’s side shouted to me ‘tell George we are going to get him’ and made a series of threats. It was clear to me there was some connection between that incident and today’s unveiling of Mr Mahmood."
Galloway said: "I call on the News of the World to retire him — it’s time for the last sheikhdown".
On Tuesday afternoon, before the injunction was granted, the NoW urged newspapers not to publish his picture.
A statement said: "As you will know, Mahmood works undercover. He is responsible for the conviction of more than 130 criminals.
"Both Mahmood and his family are the subject of death threats, which police regard as serious and credible."
The NoW declined to comment on Greenslade and Galloway’s allegations.