An undercover Sun journalist has gone on trial accused of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of Tulisa Contostavlos.
Mazher Mahmood, 53, allegedly plotted with his driver Alan Smith, 67, to change a statement made to police about the pop singer’s negative attitude towards drugs.
Mahmood and Smith are on trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice over the trial of Miss Contostavlos in 2014. She had allegedly arranged for the journalist to be sold half an ounce of cocaine by one of her contacts for £800.
Mahmood had a “vested interest” in her prosecution, which put his journalistic reputation on the line, prosecutor Sarah Forshaw QC said.
He had posed as a film producer who wanted the aspiring actress to star as a “bad girl” in a Hollywood blockbuster alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, the court was told.
Mahmood handed evidence to police which led to Miss Contostavlos being arrested and charged with being concerned in the supply of a class A drug, the court was told.
The reporter was to be called as a prosecution witness in the trial and was called to give evidence in a pre-trial hearing about his methods during the sting.
Forshaw said: “In effect, the hearing in June 2014 put Mr Mahmood and his journalistic process on trial.
“He liked to call himself the king of sting, he boasted in a book he had written of the number of convictions that he personally was responsible for.
“He knew that if it could be shown that he had acted improperly as an agent provocateur, inducing Miss Contostavlos to do something she would not otherwise do, his own credibility and standing and the prospect of conviction in the case might both be severely damaged.”
Mahmood and Smith allegedly arranged to alter a written statement the latter had made to police because it was favourable to Miss Contostavlos’s defence.
Forshaw said: “Miss Contostavlos had expressed her disapproval of hard drugs to his own driver, that was the bit of the statement that was altered.”
She added: “Mr Smith had told the police officer making the statement that he remembered that while driving Miss Contostavlos and her two friends home from a meeting with Mr Mahmood that she had spoken about someone in her family being dependent on cocaine.
“Mr Smith told the officer that Miss Contostavlos had seemed really negative about cocaine and expressed her disapproval of drugs.”
A day after making the statement Smith told police he wanted to retract the part about the singer’s negative attitude to cocaine, the court was told.
In the intervening 24 hours he had allegedly sent a copy of his interview to Mahmood and they had exchanged a number of texts and calls.
During a pre-trial hearing at Southwark Crown Court, Mahmood said on oath that he had not spoken to Smith about Miss Contostavlos’s comments.
“He deliberately misled the court – not only had he discussed it but he had been sent a copy of the statement,” Forshaw said.
While giving evidence to the jury in the case, Mahmood admitted he had seen a copy of Smith’s statement and the trial subsequently collapsed, she added.
Mahmood, of Purley, south London, and Smith, from Dereham, Norfolk, are charged with conspiring together to do an act, namely that Smith would change a draft statement to police, with the intention to pervert the course of justice, between June 22 and July 22 2014.
Forshaw told the jury: “There is no doubt that Smith did change his statement. That change was from a truthful version of events to an untruthful one.
“The change would undoubtedly have disadvantaged Miss Contostavlos’s case.
“It would have deprived her of supporting evidence from Mahmood’s own right-hand man that she made an anti-drugs comment at a time when untainted by any influence or pressure.”
She said the evidence in the case is “overwhelming”, and added: “Mr Mahmood may be the master of subterfuge and deception. But on this occasion it is he – together with his employee – who are exposed.”
Mahmood told police he had “no reason” to ask Smith to change his statement.
“I had gathered verifiable evidence that Miss Contostavlos arranged the supply of cocaine and that was all that mattered with regards to the case,” he added.
He later said in a written statement to police that Smith had sent him a copy of his statement because he wanted to correct a mistake in it.
He stated: “I did not discuss the nature of the evidence he could give or the circumstances of the conversation he had in the car.”
Smith told police he did not discuss the “content” of the statement with his co-defendant, and added: “Mahmood has not influenced me in any way to change my account prior to the trial.”
Mahmood and Smith both apparently tried to destroy evidence in the case, including Smith “dropping a car” on the phone he had used to text his former boss, Miss Forshaw added.
Contostavlos described how she was tricked by Mahmood’s alter ego and thought he was going to make her a movie star.
In a statement read to the court, she said: “He misled me about his identity and convinced me he was a film producer keen for me to be in his film.”
The singer met Mahmood at the Metropolitan Hotel in Park Lane, London, in May 2013, but said she could not fully remember the events because she was drunk.
“We consumed a considerable amount of drinks, provided by Mr Mahmood,” Contostavlos added.
“By the time we left the hotel I was drunk, I would described myself as hyper drunk as opposed to sleepy drunk.”
Her friend Michelle McKenna was so intoxicated that she passed out “unconscious” in the hotel bathroom, the jury was told.
Contostavlos and her personal assistant Gareth Varey were apparently “screaming” at each other during the drive home.
At one point he tried to jump out of the moving car and had to be pulled back inside by his jacket, the court was told.
Smith, who took them back to the singer’s Hertfordshire home, allegedly told police in his original statement that the journey was “horrendous”.
Contostavlos said she had talked about an unnamed member of her family with a drug problem during the drive. “He was staying at my house and had a hard drug problem,” she added.