Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood is facing possible jail and a string of multi-million-pound lawsuits after being found guilty of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos.
Following a two-week trial at the Old Bailey, a jury found the 53-year-old “King of the Sting” and his driver, Alan Smith, 67, guilty of plotting to pervert the course of justice.
Following the verdict, it was announced that 18 civil claims were being launched against Mahmood which could total some £800 million.
Media lawyer Mark Lewis said the claims would “dwarf” those brought following the phone- hacking scandal.
The Crown Prosecution Service has already dropped a number of live cases in the wake of the Tulisa trial and reviewed 25 past convictions.
Six of those involving mainly high-profile individuals have been taken up by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The trial had heard that Mahmood and Smith conspired to suppress evidence in the N-Dubz star’s trial, which was thrown out at Southwark Crown Court in July 2014.
The singer had been accused of arranging for Mahmood to be sold £800 of cocaine by one of her contacts following an elaborate sting for the Sun on Sunday in May 2013.
During a meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel in London, Mahmood posed as a film producer and plied Miss Contostavlos with alcohol as they discussed an acting role alongside Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
As Smith drove the former X Factor judge home to Hertfordshire, she allegedly spoke about a family member who had a drugs problem.
When he was interviewed by police about the journey more than a year later, Smith, of Dereham, Norfolk, recalled the conversation.
But a day later, after speaking to Mahmood and emailing his draft statement, the singer’s anti-drugs comments were removed, the court heard.
At a pre-trial hearing, Mahmood denied being an “agent provocateur” or that he discussed the drugs conversation with Smith.
But when he was questioned at length in the trial, Mahmood appeared to concede he had talked to Smith about what Miss Contostavlos said about drugs in the car.
Neither defendant gave evidence but it was said on Mahmood’s behalf that there had been a “misunderstanding” of his evidence as he was “steamrollered” with multi-faceted questions.
And Miss Contostavlos’s comments in the car would not have stacked up against the “clear and incontrovertible evidence” against her, it was claimed.
Defence lawyer John Kelsey-Fry QC told jurors: “Mr Mahmood is not a policeman. He is a journalist.
“Whilst the prosecution may say he boasts of the number of convictions resulting from his work, securing convictions is not actually his job.”
He said Mahmood’s whole investigation was about exposing the pop star’s private face “smoking weed” and “arranging cocaine for mates” set against her public persona as a “role model”.
Smith’s lawyer, Trevor Burke QC, challenged jurors to try to remember, as his client had done, conversations and events a year earlier.
After her case collapsed in July 2014, Miss Contostavlos claimed to reporters she had been the victim of ”a horrific and disgusting entrapment”.
For more than 25 years, Mahmood has enjoyed a position as “King of the Sting” at the now defunct News of the World, Sunday Times and Sun on Sunday, with Smith as his “right-hand man”.
Mahmood, from Purley, south London, has been suspended by News UK since the collapse of the Tulisa trial.
He claims to have helped put more than 100 criminals behind bars and risked his life on a daily basis to lift the lid on the murky world of crime.
Paedophiles, arms dealers and drug dealers have all found themselves at the centre of his stories, as have celebrities and public figures, including the Countess of Wessex, who was taped calling the Queen ”the old dear”, and Sven-Goran Eriksson, who revealed his plans to quit as England head football coach.
Neither defendant reacted as the guilty verdicts were delivered.
The prosecution asked for costs to be awarded totalling £37,929.
Judge Gerald Gordon adjourned sentencing until 21 October and allowed the defendants continued bail.
As he was leaving court, Mahmood declined to comment to journalists or say whether he would be launching an appeal.
Ben Rose, Miss Contostavlos’s defence lawyer, said: “The real scandal in this case is that Mahmood was allowed to operate as a wholly unregulated police force, ‘investigating’ crimes without the safeguards which apply to the police.
“It was obvious from the outset that Tulisa should never have had to go to court.
“If Mahmood’s evidence had been properly stress-tested instead of accepted wholesale by the CPS, we are confident it would have come to the same conclusion.
“Investigative journalists do important work, but Mahmood clearly went too far.
“That he and his driver have now been convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice will hopefully deter other journalists from using entrapment to drive celebrity gossip stories.
“Mahmood’s actions brought his profession into disrepute and ruined hundreds of lives in pursuit of better circulation figures.
“The Crown Prosecution Service should not be so credulous in future.”
Lewis, a partner at Seddons solicitors, said individuals in the civil cases had been convicted of crimes which, they argued at the time, came as the result of false evidence.
The claims for “substantial compensation” include people convicted more than 20 years ago.
Lewis said: “Over the last 25 years, innumerable lives have been ruined by the dishonest actions of Mazher Mahmood. People have lost their livelihoods, their homes and relationships, with some spending time in prison.
“Following today’s verdict, there will be a significant number of civil claims made againstMazher Mahmood. We anticipate the total sums involved could easily reach £800 million, with some awards dwarfing those seen in the phone-hacking scandal.”
A News UK spokesman said: “We are disappointed by the news that Mazher Mahmood has been convicted. We do not have further comment at this time.”
Mazher Mahmood trial timeline
- December 2012. Sun undercover journalist MazherMahmood receives information from a source alleging that Miss Contostavlos is dealing drugs.
- 28 March 2013. Mahmood, posing as a film producer, meets the N-Dubz star in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas to discuss a potential role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.
- May 10. They have a second boozy meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel in Park Lane, London. They discuss the provision of “green sweets” and “white sweets”, which is allegedly code for cannabis and cocaine.
- May 11. Mahmood’s driver Alan Smith drives Miss Contostavlos back to her home in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, at 2.37am. In the car, she allegedly talks disapprovingly of hard drugs, saying a family member had a problem.
- May 25. Michael Coombs delivers half an ounce of cocaine to Mahmood at the Dorchester hotel in exchange for £800.
- June 2. The Sun on Sunday newspaper publishes the drugs story.
- June 4. Miss Contostavlos is arrested and interviewed before being charged five days later.
- March 17 2014. The pop star tells her solicitor Jane Hickman about discussions in Smith’s car about a family member who was dependent on cocaine and in which she expressed strong disapproval of drugs.
- April 1. Her defence statement is served on the Crown Prosecution Service, making clear she would argue the proceedings against her should be stopped because Mahmood had “entrapped” her.
- June 23. Smith is interviewed by Detective Constable Andrew Nicklin. The driver told him: “Tulisa said something about someone in her family having a drug problem. She was really negative about it…”
- June 24. Smith changes his statement after speaking to Mahmood and emailing a copy. The new version states: “I do remember though at one stage there was talk of drugs. Tulisa’s assistant said something about it but I can’t remember exactly who said what.”
- June 26/27. Pre-trial hearing in Miss Contostavlos’s case. Giving evidence, Mahmood denies trapping the singer, saying: “I wasn’t to be an agent provocateur, which is standard for all investigations.” Under cross examination by Jeremy Dein QC, he denied discussing with Smith what was said in the car, in particular the conversation about drugs.
- July 16. Smith admitted to solicitors for Miss Contostavlos that he sent Mahmood a copy of his statement detailing the conversation in the car.
- July 16/7. Mahmood gives evidence in the trial and concedes Smith sent him his initial statement and that they talked about what Miss Contostavlos said in the car about drugs.
- July 21. The Southwark Crown Court trial collapses.
- July 22. Mahmood is suspended by his employer, News UK.
- September 10: Smith answers no comment to police questions but says in statement: “I did not discuss the content of my statement with Mahmood other than indicate to him that I was not happy about some of the information in it…”
- September 22: Mahmood is interviewed by police at Charing Cross police station and gives a prepared statement saying the court was looking for “an excuse” to drop the trial.
- September 2016: Mahmood and Smith go on trial at the Old Bailey accused of plotting to pervert the course of justice.