Mahmood cleared after police investigate passport scam - Press Gazette

Mahmood cleared after police investigate passport scam

Sunday Times journalists have been cleared from possible prosecution after a police investigation into their exposure of a fake passport immigration scam.

Investigative journalist Mazher Mahmood was interviewed under caution after his team exposed the actions of a criminal gang in Greece which rents out genuine passports to illegal immigrants enabling them to enter Britain undetected.

In order to stand up the front page story from January this year a Sunday Times reporter posed as an illegal immigrant and travelled under a fake passport.

Press Gazette understands that police did carry out an initial investigation into the actions of Mahmood and his team and referred the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service for guidance.

The CPS has now informed Mahmood that no further action will be taken.

The authorities are satisfied that although presenting an identity document with intent to deceive a public official is against the law and an offence was committed, this was a piece of investigative journalism which exposed loopholes in the immigration system of the UK.

Sunday Times editor John Witherow said: "This piece of investigative journalism by Mazher required the law to be broken to expose a loophole in the immigration system. It is reassuring that the CPS have shown sound judgement in deciding that it is not in the public interest to prosecute this case."

The CPS has recently completed a consultation on new public interest guidelines which must be weighed when journalists commit criminal offences in the course of their work.

Even where there is no specific public interest defence to a crime prosecutors can, in cases such as this one, decide that a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer told Press Gazette in June: 'There is strong case law on the importance of freedom of expression and the role of the press acting as watchdog. It doesn't mean that, if you are a journalist, you've got any kind of immunity. It does mean if you are acting in the public interest in pursuit of information then it will be relevant to look at what you were trying to achieve."

Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette