Mazher Mahmood: Just Like Phone Hacking, the Met Narrows the Investigation


Metropolitan police’s Operation Silverhawk, an investigation into Sun on Sunday’s Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood is being led by Commander Martin Hewitt – who was one of the senior investigators in Operation Varec which was part of John Yates’s discredited investigation into phone hacking at Mahmood’s News of the World in 2010. Minutes from ‘Gold’ Group meeting which was chaired by Yates shows Commander Hewitt present as one the more senior members within the team at a meeting in September that year.

Operation Varec was criticised for interviewing whistleblower ex-News of the World showbiz reporter Sean Hoare under caution – effectively meaning that his statements could be used against him for prosecution. Hoare a former friend of Andy Coulson had given an interview to The New York Times weeks earlier claiming Coulson had “actively encouraged” him to hack phones but was left with no choice but to give No Comment answers in his police interview. This was at the time Andy Coulson was Director of Communications for the government at 10 Downing Street.

DAC Sue Akers in her witness statement to the Leveson inquiry said:

Operation Varec was commenced in order to review claims made in the New York Times newspaper on 1 September 2010 that Andy Coulson had in fact known more about phone hacking than than he had admitted publicly. This investigation led to a number of persons being interviewed under caution but no prosecutions were forthcoming

This is despite Hoare offering himself as a whistleblower and bin liners full of evidence at Scotland Yard from 2006’s Operation Caryatid that would later be used to prosecute then convict Coulson.

Currently, Commander Hewitt answers directly to Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley who heads the Met’s Specialist Crime & Operations Unit. He was Chief Superintendent at Surrey police in 2002,the year Milly Dowler was hacked by News of the World.

Even though AC Rowley wasn’t directly involved, the case was one of the largest in Surrey police’s history in which News of the World informed the force on three seperate occasions of Milly’s hacked messages.

First, it was NotW managing editor Stuart Kuttner ( who phoned and emailed), then NotW news reporter Neville Thurlbeck (who instructed PI Glenn Mucaire), before finally NotW crime reporter Ricky Sutton who (even) played hacked recordings down the phone.

Furthermore, there were TWO MEETINGS between News of the World and Surrey police officers held at Surrey police station that have never been well publicised, reportedonly in the Independent in October 2011:

The Independent has established that, in April 2002 as police followed multiple leads, the NOTW approached the Surrey force and arranged two meetings during which it was made clear that the paper had obtained information that could only have come from messages on Milly’s phone.
The meetings, which took place at a Surrey police station, were attended by at least two journalists from the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper and two of the force’s most senior detectives, Mr Denholm and Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Gibson, who had day-to-day control of the inquiry. A third Surrey officer also attended.
Mr Denholm declined to comment on the meetings when approached by The Independent. Mr Gibson, who has retired from the police, could not be reached for comment despite repeated requests made to Surrey Police.
One former Surrey officer said: “The meetings were clearly significant. It was obvious that the newspaper had got hold of details from Milly’s phone messages.

The Guardian’s Hugh Muir reported in November 2011:

If you looked at his (Rowley’s) official biog in July (2011), it revealed that as a detective superintendent at the National Criminal Intelligence Service, he “led on the national deployment of covert techniques to combat organised crime such as telephone interception”. Appraised of the facts, he would have realised that what the News of the World was doing wasn’t legal. By the time of his move to the Met last month, his Surrey biog had been redrafted. By then, there was no reference to his telephony expertise at all.

AC Rowley who himself took over the Milly Dowler case in 2006 was left to confirm to MPs in 2011 that Surrey police did indeed have knowledge of the hacking of Milly’s phone nine years earlier. In a letter to Keith Vaz MP the Guardian reported of AC Rowley:

He said the police did not pursue the paper or its publisher News Group Newspapers, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, because it was “focused on retrieving any evidence the NoW had that could assist in the investigation into Milly Dowler’s disappearance”.

Rowley added Surrey police had “neither arrested nor charged anyone” in connection with the phone hacking.

In a letter to the Commons home affairs select committee, he said an inquiry is under way into why no criminal investigation was launched over the Milly Dowler hacking information.

He added the force had also failed to pass this information to the Metropolitan police’s original phone-hacking investigation in 2006. That investigation led to the imprisonment of Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal editor, and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who worked for the paper.

Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, who chairs the home affairs committee, described the failure to notify the 2006 Met inquiry as “a serious omission”.

Vaz said: “Had Surrey police acted in 2002, it may have prevented the culture of hacking becoming endemic at News of the World.”

In June 2012 IPCC received only two referrals – from Surrey Police Authority in regards to the hacking of Milly’s phone. A junior officer at the time of the hacking Temporary Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall who had admitted knowing about the hacking when a investigation held within Surrey police and Deputy Chief Constable Craig Denholm who denied knowledge despite Independent’s report of his two meetings with journalists from News of the World. In April 2013 The IPCC published a six page severely critical report:

A number of junior officers in 2002, including Ms Woodall, were frank about their knowledge of the phone hacking. However, witnesses became much less specific in relation and actions of senior officers, particularly Mr Denholm.


“In 2002 Ms Woodall was a Detective Sergeant; her role in Operation Ruby (Surrey investigation into abduction and murder of Milly Dowler) was Action Team Manager. The case against her rested on her actions and knowledge in 2007, when the first phone hacking convictions took place. It is clear at that point she accessed the HOLMES system to view documents from 2002 associated with phone hacking. However, the relevance or importance of this to her and others is unclear, and we could find no conclusive evidence that she discussed this with anyone else, including Mr Denholm. Given her admission to Operation Baronet team (Surrey police Dowler hacking investigation 2011) about her knowledge in 2002, and her junior rank at the time, the investigation concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct.”


“Mr Denholm was a Detective Chief Superintendent and Head of Crime for Surrey police in 2002. His initial role in Operation Ruby was Overall Command. The case against him rested on his claim to have had no knowledge about the alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone before this was revealed in 2011. Given the extent of the knowledge within the investigation team, AND SURREY POLICE AS A WHOLE, and the fact this was referred to in documents which he is known to have received, the investigation found it hard how he, the officer in charge, could not have been aware of the alleged hacking. But despite detailed examination of all extant documents and interviews with all relevant witnesses, the investigation was unable to find any witness or documentary evidence that contradicted Mr Denholm’s own repeated assertions to the IPCC that he did not know, and had not made the relevant connections. In the view of that, and the passage of time that has since elapsed, during which what might have been crucial evidence lost or misplaced, our investigation concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of a case to answer of gross misconduct.”


“There is no doubt, from our investigation and the evidence gathered by Operation Baronet, that Surrey police knew in 2002 of the allegation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked by News of the World. It is apparent from the evidence that there was knowledge of this at all levels within the investigation team. There is equally no doubt that Surrey police did nothing to investigate; nobody was arrested or charged in relation to the allegation interception either in 2002 or subsequently, until the Operation Weeting arrests in 2011. Phone hacking was a crime in 2002 and it should have been investigated. Our investigation has heard from officers and former officers at Surrey police who have expressed surprise and dismay that this was not done. We have not been able to uncover any evidence, in documentation or witness statements, of why and by whom that decision was made: former senior officers in particular appear to be afflicted by a form of COLLECTIVE AMNESIA about this. This is perhaps not surprising, given the events of 2011 and the public outcry that the hacking of Milly Dowler phone produced.”

It is not known if the author of the report, IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass ever contacted the Independent regarding their exclusive of the two meetings between Surrey police and News of the World before concluding her investigation but that same week it was announced  Denholm will move to a new job from Surrey police to Hampshire Constabulary doing the same role to the dismay of Labour MP Chris Bryant who has been a prominent  phone hacking campaigner, described the Hampshire appointment as “extraordinary”.

Detective Chief Constable Denholm retires at the end of this year with the search for his replacement being advertised online with a salary of £128,520.

Sir Paul Stephenson provided more fascinating information at the Leveson Inquiry about a dinner set up especially for Andy Coulson and Operation Varec,which took place during the period he was Metropolitan Police Commissioner:

The MPS occasionally hosted a reception at New Scotland Yard (NSY) for the press. I recall, for example, we hosted a dinner at NSY after Andy Coulson had been appointed Head of Communications at No 10 (in July 2010). Neil Wallis also attended this function. The purpose of this function was to enable us to get to know Mr Coulson and his assistant Ed Llewellyn, both of whom were important figures in the heart of government, to tell them what we regarded as important and to get a sense of how they saw policing in London.

Meanwhile on commander Hewitt’s Operation Varec, Sir Stephenson told the Leveson:

On 1 September 2010 an article was published in the New York Times, in which apparently fresh allegations were made about phone hacking. I understood that AC (John) Yates undertook a scoping exercise at this time and put a new team in place to complete this task. This was known as Operation Varec. In December 2010 I was aware that the results of this work were referred to the CPS. I am told that they concluded there was insufficient evidence to mount a prosecution. Again, there was no reason for me to think the issue had not been satisfactorily dealt with. However, it was in December 2010 that I took a leave of absence due to ill-health.  The investigation team, AC Yates or Tim Godwin, who was Acting Commissioner, would have had any further knowledge of the outcome of Operation Varec from this point onwards.

He goes on to say:

Although I was aware from these discussions and AC Yates’ public comments that a strategy for dealing with people who may have been exposed to the practice of phone hacking had been developed by the original investigating team and service providers, I was unaware that this strategy had not been implemented as expected. I was also unaware that there was substantial material that had not been satisfactorily dealt with by that original investigation. Indeed my belief, based upon discussions with, and assurances from, AC Yates, was that the original investigation and prosecution strategy had successfully tested relatively new legislation covering a somewhat technical and now illegal practice…it was only after the reopening of the investigation through the establishment of Operation Weeting during my absence from office on sick leave that I became aware that there were issues of substance for further investigation. Up until this point I had no reason to suspect that the initial investigation was other than entirely successful. do not recall having any substantive or detailed discussions about phone hacking with anyone else during this period. Indeed, it is fair to say that set against the other issues facing the MPS (including counterterrorism issues, the investigation into the “night-stalker”, the reinvestigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, very real budgetary challenges, the Olympic security preparations, Government proposals for significant changes to the governance arrangements for the police and national structures for dealing with serious and organised crime) phone hacking was not a matter which I prioritised. I was satisfied that it was being overseen by a highly experienced and very senior officer. I was reassured by the fact that to my knowledge the case had been reviewed by the CPS and by counsel.

Keir Starmer QC also appeared at the Leveson Inquiry and submitted extensive evidence relating to Operation Varec. First of all it reveals that Operation Varec covered more than just the New York Times article:

In addition to the “fact-finding exercise” in relation to matters raised in the article, there was a further case involving Kelly Hoppen, who claimed that her phone had been hacked by a NOTW reporter named Dan Evans.

Starmer then mentions Sean Hoare’s evidence:

Amongst other things, D/Supt Haydon told Simon Clements that Sean Hoare had been interviewed under caution and had said nothing.

Later in his evidence in a section dedicated to Operation Varec he goes on to describe what happened next:

The next development was the formal request from the police for advice as to the prospects of prosecuting anyone as a result of the “fact-finding” exercise conducted by them following the NYT Article. This was received on 12th November 2010. I attach a copy of the request prepared by D/Supt Haydon at annex 72. In it D/Supt Haydon makes clear: “I must stress that my task was not to re-open or re-investigate the R v Goodman and Mulcaire case but clearly there were links and crossovers or both.

Starmer statement continues:

I am unclear whether I was actually shown this document at the time or merely told of its content.

The request for advice from Detective Haydon to CPS concludes:

I accept that the evidential position does not meet the threshold for a referral to the CPS but in view of the vast media, public and political scrutiny in this case and due to both the MPS and CPS involvement to date, i consider a referral is appropriate in order to agree a joint current and future position in this case…

Starmer then explains what followed:

On 10th December 2010, Simon Clements delivered his advice on Operation Varec to the police. He concluded that as no one had been prepared to provide evidence, the case did not pass the evidential stage of the test contained in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, namely that there must be sufficient evidence to establish that there is a realistic prospect of conviction. I attach a copy of Simon Clements’ advice as annex 74. On 22nd December 2010 Simon Clements completed his second advice, this time in relation to Dan Evans. I attach a copy of that advice at annex 76. In it he states that officers have asked for clarification in relation to the law, and Mr Clements set out the advice detailed in my letter to the Home Affairs Committee. As far as further investigation of this allegation was concerned, he concluded that the evidence in this case fell far short of the threshold for prosecution, but the police should keep a watching brief on this and the other civil cases in case any further evidence should emerge.

That concluded Operation Varec – the much forgotten Metropolitan police investigation into phone hacking. The next month in January 2011, just as a third new investigation was starting in Operation Weeting, Andy Coulson resigned from government.

Press Gang who reported Operation Silverhawk’s narrow investigation into Mahmood – only the Tulisa Constavlos case – unlike CPS who have agreed to investigate 25 cases, provided evidence to Leveson of Mahmood’s convictions from 1991 to 2001. But just like the early days of phone hacking, Metropolitan police seem to avoid investigating evidence that they already possess.

APPENDIX: The Successful Criminal Proesecutions of Mazher Mahmood – Source: Press Gang

The names of 52 individuals reported to have been convicted (including one where the name was with-held to protect a victim) are listed.

18 convictions where the names are not given are identified separately.

The date of the article where the conviction is reported, if available, is given.

In all cases, the article refers to the conviction and not the original exposé.

1991 No convictions reported.

1992 No convictions reported.

1993 6 convictions reported:
4 July: Terry Valvona & Rosemary Iredale
5 Sept: Norman Wardell
12 Dec: Syed Rizvi, Parghat Heer, Fahim Iqbal

1994 No convictions reported.

1995 9 convictions reported (including 5 unnamed):
17 Sept: Shafique & Salim Mumtaz, Iqbal Raja, Ghulam Murtaza and 5 other unnamed individuals

1996 4 convictions reported:
17 March: Gordon Brown, Paul Garlick
24 March: Stephen Harvey
8 September: Kim Lisles

1997 7 convictions reported (including 3 unnamed):
10 Aug: Mohinder Singh
17 Aug: Bruce Allen, Jonathan Pickering and three others, unnamed
21 Dec: Brenda Tonnesson

1998 2 convictions reported:
14 June: Iqbal Master
20 Dec: Clifford Davies

1999 4 convictions reported:
9 May: John Alford 26 Sept: Earl Hardwicke, Stefan Thwaites
17 Oct: disc jockey Johnnie Walker

2000 7 convictions were reported:
20 Feb: Dr Manohar Rangwani
28 May: Mohammed Khan
13 Aug: Mohammed Yousif
1 Oct: Gary Harris, David Weir, Barry Dickenson Undated: Ishmail Pirbhai [not reported in 2000 but cited in final News of the World issue in July 2011]

2001 No convictions reported.

2002 3 convictions reported (including I unnamed):
2 June: Shaheen Begolli
29 Sept: Antonio Russo + 1 unnamed)

2003 5 convictions reported:
6 July: Joseph Rivas, Luzum Balliu
14 Sept: Neil Montgomery
28 Sept: David Cheney, Sultan Merchant

2004 2 convictions reported:
15 Feb: San Keung Yau, Keith Blasdale

2005 3 convictions reported:
30 Jan: Niki Dimitrov
10 April: Agha Mohammed, Besnik Qema

2006 11 convictions reported (including 9 unnamed):
23 July: Paul Singh, Adeola Magbagebeola and 9 others, unnamed.

2007 3 convictions reported:
8 April: Rani & Joginder Kashyap
22 April: Name withheld to protect daughter [but counted as named for the purposes of this survey].

2008 2 convictions reported:
26 Oct: Mohammed Kutubuddin
Undated: Gary Pennant [not reported in 2008 but cited in final News of the World edition in July 2011]

2009 No convictions reported.

2010 2 convictions reported:
24 Jan: Suresh Kumar, Baldev Sidhu

2011 No convictions reported.

The News of the World closed in July 2011