Stars could sue for £800m as the Fake Sheikh faces prison

Scottish Daily Mail - - Tories in Birmingham - By Chris Green­wood Crime Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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