Stars could sue for £800m as the Fake Sheikh faces prison
SCORES of stars brought down by the undercover ‘Fake Sheikh’ journalist were preparing a legal onslaught last night after he was exposed as a liar.
Celebrities, sports stars and businessmen are among 20 people suing for damages in the wake of Mazher Mahmood’s conviction for perverting justice, with one lawyer saying the claims could reach an astonishing £800million.
Mahmood, 53, was found to have altered evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of former X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos. The self-proclaimed ‘King of Sting’ persuaded his driver to change a witness statement and then lied to a judge.
Yesterday’s guilty verdict at the Old Bailey leaves Mahmood’s career in tatters and his employer News UK facing a tsunami of legal cases.
Up to 72 defendants in criminal cases in which Mahmood played a role could apply for convictions to be quashed and claim compensation through the civil courts.
Eight people prosecuted after Fake Sheikh stings, including Pakistani cricket fixer Mazhar Majeed, want to get their convictions quashed. Six cases have been lodged with the Criminal Cases Review Commission which expects to receive two more files within weeks.
Famous figures preparing cases include the Duchess of York, who believes she lost millions in work and endorsements after being exposed in 2010.
The Duchess of York was caught on camera offering privileged access to her former husband Prince Andrew – then a UK trade envoy – for £500,000.
Her former financial adviser John Bryant, once photographed sucking her toes, is also suing in the US for more than £100million over another Mahmood sting. Others include London’s Burning star John Alford and former Page Three model Emma Morgan, who were both caught in cocaine stings.
Many of those targeted by Mahmood are represented by solicitor Mark Lewis, who acted for the family of Milly Dowler in the phone hacking scandal.
He said: ‘This is worse than the hacking scandal in a way because of the devastation inflicted on people, some of whom went to prison.
‘We anticipate the total sums involved could easily reach £800m, with some awards dwarfing those seen in the phone hacking scandal.’
Mr Lewis was unable to explain how he arrived at the £800m figure.
Known for his elaborate disguises, Mahmood is responsible for almost 100 convictions and many more blockbuster exclusives.
The award-winning News of the World journalist made a name for himself with a string of high-profile investigations that exposed corrup- tion and destroyed careers during a 20-year stint at the Sunday tabloid.
But Mahmood was charged with perverting the course of justice after the trial of Tulisa collapsed in July 2014.
The undercover reporter was accused of perjury after asking his driver to change a witness statement that suggested the former N-Dubz star was anti-drugs. He then lied to the trial judge tasked with deciding if the methods he used to involve Tulisa in the supply of half an ounce of cocaine amounted to entrapment.
Witnesses described Mahmood unintentionally switching between accents – Brummie, well-spoken English and Middle Eastern – as he was questioned. Yesterday, after a two-week trial in which Mahmood declined to give evidence in his defence, a jury ruled that the ‘master of deceit’ broke the law.
Prosecutor Sarah Forshaw had told jurors: ‘Mr Mahmood may be the master of subterfuge and deception. But on this occasion it is he – together with his employee – who are exposed.’
He and his driver Alan Smith, 67, who was also convicted of perverting the course of justice, face jail terms when they return to be sentenced later this month.
Mahmood left court without commenting yesterday, covering his face with a blue hooded jacket in a bid to continue the mystery around his identity. But within hours, the Metropolitan Police released a custody mugshot, unmasking the Fake Sheikh once and for all.
The collapse of the Tulisa trial sent shockwaves through the criminal justice system, with prosecutors left to pick up the pieces.
The Crown Prosecution Service identified 42 cases involving 72 defendants in which Mahmood played a role.
Some 41 of those people have been tracked down, and they could all now consider applying for the conviction to be quashed or to sue for damages through the civil courts.
But in a possible indication of their chances of success, two applications to try to quash convictions have already been rejected by the Court of Appeal. They were by champion boxer Herbie Hide, who was jailed for supplying cocaine, and hypnotist Alex Smith, aka Jonathan Royle, who was convicted of delivering fake £1 coins in 1999.
Mr Lewis said he had been instructed by 18 individuals to pursue ‘substantial’ compensation claims against Mahmood and News UK. He added: ‘Over the last 25 years, innumerable lives have been ruined by the dishonest actions of Mahmood. People have lost their livelihoods, their homes and relationships, with some spending time in prison.
‘When the public used to read “Fake Sheikh” articles in British newspapers, they would know there was a criminal at the heart of the story.
‘Until now, readers didn’t realise that the criminal was the “Fake Sheikh” himself. There will be a significant number of civil claims made against Mazher Mahmood.’
Mahmood, who faces £37,929 in costs, was ordered to return to court on October 21 to be sentenced. The journalist, who also worked for the Sunday Times and Sun on Sunday, has been suspended by News UK since the collapse of the Tulisa trial.
News UK said: ‘We are disappointed by the news that Mazher Mahmood has been convicted. We have no further comment.’
‘Dwarfing the phone hacking scandal’
Unmasked: Mahmood’s mugshot, left, and a photo from the 1990s