The News of the World has reacted with astonishment to an extraordinary media counter-offensive launched against it by former footballer John Fashanu.
The ex-Wimbledon player was caught promising to rig football matches for cash by NoW investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood.
Since the story appeared on Sunday, Fashanu has told journalists he only went along with the newspaper’s undercover sting because he wanted to gather evidence on what he thought was a criminal gang.
He has pointed to the fact that he gave police the £5,000 handed to him by reporters posing as Arab businessmen.
Mahmood told Press Gazette: “What he is saying is ludicrous. He said he went directly to the police, which he didn’t – it was two and a half hours after we contacted him.
“He says we only had two meetings with him.
That’s a lie; he had four meetings with us, which were all videotaped.
“To claim he was leading us along is absolute nonsense. He named six players who were friends of his and would take money to throw matches.
That’s not the way you would talk if you were trying to con us.
“We’ve got 50 pages of transcripts of conversations with him – he’s trying to save his own skin but he is bang to rights.”
A team of three NoW reporters set up the Fashanu sting over a period of a fortnight. They contacted him via his agent, saying they were from a television production company.
In subsequent meetings, which did not involve Fashanu’s agent, they discussed the organisation of a charity football match, which Fashanu is reported to have offered to fix.
He told the paper: “You pick a goalkeeper, you pick a striker and you pick a defender. The defender goes to pass the ball back, he knows the goalkeeper is over there and he scores an own goal.”
Six years ago, Fashanu was cleared of matchfixing allegations in a case prompted by reports in The Sun. The judge in that case made Fashanu pay his own legal costs, saying his conduct had “brought suspicion on himself”.
To date, the NoW has not been contacted by Fashanu or his lawyer.
Since the story was published, the paper has been contacted by a number of footballers’ agents concerned that their clients may be involved in the match-fixing allegations.
The NoW has promised more transcripts and further revelations in this Sunday’s edition. It is understood to have passed evidence to the Football Association.
By Dominic Ponsford