Over the past two years my “regular contributor” has written on all things Leveson, phone hacking, and police corruption, with much of their work gathered on the Brown Moses Blog – Hackgate Files. Now they’ve come to Bellingcat to continue their work, beginning with a look at Mazher Mahmood (aka the Fake Sheikh) and the Metropolitan Police.
Miskiw, Mahmood and the MET
In January 2004, a journalist from the News of the World (NOTW) was interviewed by MET police on suspected criminality resulting from Operation Motorman. It was GREG MISKIW.
Yet just a few weeks later, MET police were enthusiastically commiting to a £1million+ collaboration with the NOTW on a newspaper ‘sting’. This time the journalist was MISKIW’S investigations desk close colleague – MAZHER MAHMOOD.
This contradictory dynamic between NOTW and MET deserves more scrutiny and was first addressed by the Brown Moses blog two years ago. (here)
GREG MISKIW was one of seven journalists interviewed under caution in Jan 2004 – one each from News of the World, News of the World Scotland, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Mail on Sunday and two freelancers according to Det Chief Inspector Brendan Gilmour. (p13 here)
MISKIW attended Colindale police station in North London, accompanied by a legal representative of News International. He was questioned on the c.90 occasions he had commissioned private investigator Steve Whittamore, on related allegations he had paid another Whittamore associate – John Boyall – to procure data from the Police National Computer (PNC), and that he had bribed mobile phone company employees for information. (here)
No further action was taken by the police against MISKIW on PNC allegations, bribery via Boyall, nor that he had obtained illegal vehicle registration checks and criminal record checks from Whittamore. Little wonder that at the trial of Whittamore, Boyall and their two MET police accomplices the judge wondered where the journalists were.
Operation Motorman in 2004 marks the first known occasion that NotW’s MISKIW was interviewed by the MET.
Throughout the time these police investigations were being carried out the MET was simultaneously joining forces with NOTW – formally colluding with MAHZER MAHMOOD and his team in a vainglorious operation which became known as the ‘Red Mercury sting’.
During the summer of 2004, MAHMOOD posed as a dodgy dealer willing to sell ‘red mercury’, described by NOTW as “a deadly substance developed by cold war Russian scientists for making briefcase nuclear bombs”. In fact it was invented by Soviet intelligence for cold war sting operations. MAHMOOD arranged a series of meetings with a businessman, a City banker and a security guard who were alleged to want to buy a kilogram of the ‘deadly substance’ with a view to terrorist plots. MAHMOOD secretly taped the meetings and, after a charcteristic unexplained delay, took his sting exclusive plan to the MET anti-terrorism branch. He secured a collaboration which involved him becoming a registered police covert source working with and for anti-terrorism officers. (here)
Of the Red Mercury sting, MAHMOOD observed,
the police even read my story, and made minor amendments, before it was published on the front page in September 2004… My evidence had clearly been of a sufficient standard to satisfy highly experienced anti-terror officers, the Crown Prosecution Service who decided on the charges, and the Attorney General who had to personally sign off the prosecution. (Confessions of a Fake Sheik)
The ‘sting’ is the preferred modus operandi of MAHMOOD. Over the preceding years, he had gathered a team around him such that he could call on particular specialisms in surveillance, covert recording and other forms of subterfuge – including former police officers. One of his regular freelancers specialised in acting as His Majesty the Fake Sheik’s faux ‘English secretary’ wearing blazer and bow tie – an ex-MET detective called Sid FILLERY. Fillery co-owned a private detective agency, Southern Investigations, with Jonathan REES. Rees also had a sustained history of lucrative commissions from NOTW for surveillance and information acquired from questionable sources. (The Untouchables chapter 13). Both FILLERY and REES had previously been suspected of the notorious unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan in 1987. (see here)
MAHMOOD was very proud of ‘his’ conviction rate, although not all NOTW-MET collaborations were that successful. The high-profile ‘Beckham kidnap plot’ was one that did not result in convictions but the apparently cosy relationship between NOTW and MET didn’t appear to suffer. Intriguingly, on one sting the police seemed to be wistfully envious of MAHMOOD’S use of shortcuts by private eyes and colouful helpmates: “one of the officers on the case told me that I’d done a better job than they could have because they have to follow strict legal guidelines to gain proof”
MAHMOOD also explained
a few months later the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, invited me for a private drink together with Andy Coulson. We sat in his plush offices at the Yard and Sir John praised my work, singling out the Newcastle United bosses as one of his all-time favourites. He also told me that he also felt that my work on the Beckham kidnap case had been excellent and that in his view the evidence was overwhelming. He shared my disappointment at the COS decision. Coming from the most decorated police officer in the land, I considered it a huge honour.
The New York Times later (Sept 1 2010) characterised the cooperation differently, saying that Scotland Yard “had a symbiotic relationship with News of the World. The police sometimes built high-profile cases out of the paper’s exclusives, and News of the World reciprocated with fawning stories of arrests.”
Heading MET anti-terrorism throughout this period 2002-08) – and presumably authorising the substantial resources for NOTW collaboration – was PETER CLARKE. From the date of the Red Mercury arrests it took two years of MET & CPS public funding under Clarke’s watch to prepare for trial. Part way through that time, in 2005, ANDY HAYMAN returned to the MET from Norfolk Constabulary as Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations (ACSO) which included Clarke’s anti-terrorism branch. CLARKE therefore had the responsibility for ensuring HAYMAN was thoroughly briefed on priority investigations into terrorist plots, ‘dirty bombs’ and Red Mercury.
One other investigation threatening national security became the responsibility of HAYMAN and CLARKE in December 2005 when the head of Royal Protection contacted CLARKE to report grave fears that the security of the Royal Household had been compromised through voicemail interception by NOTW. Operation CARYATID was thus instigated and that is how Specialist Operations (Counter Terrorism) came to be running two contradictory investigations at the same time – one collaborating with NOTW over Red Mercury and the other investigating NOTW phone hacking of members of the Royal family.
On 26th July 2006 the Red Mercury trial jury delivered ‘not guilty’ verdicts and the methods of MAHMOOD and MET were publicly castigated. Three innocent defendants had each spent two years in prison on remand, plus the 3 month trial alone had been estimated to cost more than £1 million (not including the investigation costs). By contrast CLARKE had directed the under-resourced Operation CARYATID have its parameters very strictly drawn solely around the Royal household; the phone hacking investigation was not widened and evidence leads not pursued. The CARYATID raids and the arrests of Goodman and Mulcaire took place just two weeks after the Red Mercury trial debacle, on 8th August 2006.
Greg MISKIW was never interviewed by Operation CARYATID, despite the arrest raids recovering a written contract MISKIW had given Mulcaire (a.k.a. Paul Williams) for £7,000 commissioning information for a story on Gordon Taylor. The infamous ‘for Neville’ email also remained in the wealth of unused evidence. But the cat was out of the bin bag when, in July 2009, the Guardian presented the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee with copies of both. Yet these evidential leads were still not re-examined by the MET.
MISKIW was however interviewed a year later. On 1st September 2010, the New York Times published a long-form article on the UK phone hacking scandal (here)
This time the MET started Operation Varec, a low profile re-examination of new information contained in the NYT piece. (here)
MISKIW was interviewed under caution but produced a pre-prepared statement denying any knowledge of illicit information gathering and voicemail interception. He refused to cooperate any further and gave a ‘no comment’ interview. In addition, 19 other members of staff still employed by NOTW were contacted to establish if any could assist or provide any information relating to voicemail interception. No response was received from any of them; Operation Varec came to nothing.
Within months – perhaps realising that finally the penny was beginning to drop for the MET – MISKIW had left the UK. After more than a decade of him being on the MET radar but consistently ‘no further action’ taken, when the phone hacking scandal erupted in July 2011, MISKIW was missing. Earlier that year he had relocated to Delray Beach in Florida and was working for the local newspaper, the Delray Globe. (here)
His solicitor negotiated with police that he would return to the UK voluntarily for questioning. MISKIW was finally arrested on 10th August 2011 “on suspicion of unlawful interception of communications, contrary to Section 1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section 1(1) Criminal Law Act 1977.” After a further two years on bail, MISKIW was convicted and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment in Trial 1.
But this still leaves questions over MET action and inaction in relation to NOTW. Is it possible that CARYATID was deliberately constrained in an attempt to evade embarassment to the MET resulting from the costly and simultaneous MAZHER MAHMOOD Red Mercury fiasco?
And did this intersect with another – and even more compelling – reason why the fear of reputational damage may have constrained Scotland Yard?
‘The Context of Caryatid – Part 2’ will look at this alternative in detail and explore the possible motivations of key senior MET police officers.