Mazher Mahmood, Murdoch, and the NCA


‘Why don’t the police chase proper criminals instead?’

‘They should be out catching paedos and looking at dodgy blue chip firms not journalists just doing their job’

Paraphrasing an often heard criticism, the view is that police priorities are all skewed.

And they’ve got a good point.

There are honourable examples of tabloid law-and-order campaigns, and there are more questionable examples too.  The methods of Mazher Mahmood are currently under scrutiny, with a large magnifying glass being run across his back catalogue of exposés.  His methods are in question, as are his close working liaison with law enforcement agencies.

The modus operandi follows a repeating pattern.  Following weeks (sometimes months) of preparation and investigation by Mahmood and his team, law enforcement are contacted and a deal struck.

A meeting is arranged in which the plans for the sting are communicated to police officers.  Crucially, on Editor’s instructions, Mahmood deliberately witholds the target’s name and other key details.  This is to protect the title’s investment in getting its exclusive splash.  Presented as a mutual opportunity for positive and high profile publicity, police support is enlisted.  On the eve of the sting, police are informed.  Police raids, arrests, and sometimes firearms officers are marshalled and deployed – at a place and time of the newspaper’s choosing.  Its splash is secured in the furtherance of law and order.  This MO has been used in celebrity stings, kidnap plots and sports gambling scams.  (Chapter 8 – Confessions of a Fake Sheik)

The News of the World (NOTW) frequently benefitted in this way from Mahmood’s close collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and other forces – despite the convictions of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking in 2006-7.  When NOTW closed in July 2011, Mahmood briefly switched to working for The Times, then returned to business as usual for NOTW’s replacement – the Sun on Sunday.

It seems the Mahmood investigative team then aimed higher than provincial forces or the MPS in pursuit of exclusives, setting their sights on the National Crime Agency (NCA).  Successor to SOCA (Serious and Organised Crime Agency), the NCA has been called the ‘British FBI’.

In Autumn 2013, Mahmood secured the support of the NCA for a football match fixing sting.  When the Sun on Sunday were ready, the NCA coordinated dawn raids on their targets the same morning as the SoS exclusive was published. Six were arrested, followed later by a further seven. (here)

On the face of it, the timing of the arrests indicates the NCA raids were prompted solely on material provided by Mahmood.  Unless of course the NCA had independently obtained their own evidence to verify the Sun on Sunday evidence.  If that is the case, Mahmood would have to have given the NCA his targets’ identities in advance – not his usual MO.

There are two more problems with the case.  Firstly, all 13 arrested have had their prosecutions dropped by the CPS as a result of Mahmood being labelled untrustworthy by the judge who tried Tulisa Contostavlos on drug allegations. The case collapsed when the judge ruled there were strong grounds to believe Mahmood had attempted to persuade a witness to change his evidence and then lied about it under oath. (here)

The second problem is its timing in Autumn 2013.

At the same time as the Maz sting was in the making, another arm of NCA, Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) was pressing the panic button.  Toronto police had reminded them they’d been sent information on suspected UK online paedophiles a year and a half earlier.  Apparently, CEOP had failed to act on the Toronto information gathered under global Project Spade.  CEOP had not informed any other agencies or police forces about the mass of evidence and names supplied.  The data included priests and foster carers. (here)

At least two Spade suspects were belatedly investigated – a doctor at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and a teacher who killed himself after police confronted him.  The NCA has now voluntarily refferred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

NCA Director Keith Bristow was recently called to account by the Home Affairs Select Committee.  He said,

“Sitting on data for the period of time between July 2012 and November 2013, that could have led to children being protected or safeguarded, seems to me whether it’s systemic or it’s down to individuals – and there are certainly some systemic issues that we need to work through – that’s not in the spirit of what we stand for.

“I’m sorry if that’s led to harm to children or exposing them to risk because that’s not what we stand for.” (here)

Next time police priorities are criticised would be a good time to reflect on what exactly might at times have been diverting their scarce resources away from child abuse pornography.

It’s a good question, isn’t it Mr Murdoch?