The gun supplier of Mazher Mahmood’s failed Victoria Beckham kidnap plot was NEVER contacted by Scotland Yard investigating Mahmood in Operation Canopus in 2005 – despite the five defendants spending up to eight months on remand before being released after the case collapsed when it was discovered News of the World had paid the key prosecution witness Florim Gashi £10,000.
An individual who worked for APCOA Parking in Wandsworth between 1999 and 2004 sold the gun to Gashi whom he supervised there while Gashi was also being hired by Mahmood as agent provocateur for stories in News of the World.
Though only a replica, it was crucial evidence because had the police followed it up, it would have revealed that all along, it belonged to the crown’s main witness Gashi – and not one of the accused who Bellingcat will call Defendant X – which given that Gashi had also been paid £10,000 by News of the World, its clear the defendants should never have been charged let alone on remand.
After a run of stings over a number of years, Gashi decided to confess to Scotland Yard detectives about his work with Mahmood. According to a witness statement given to a libel hearing dated 21 September 2005, Gashi states:
As with all the work that I did for Maz (Mahmood), it was always him directing the show and pushing me to get people to say things on tape. It was his idea to get “Jaws” (Mahmood’s second cousin Mahmood Qureshi) into the “gang” as a driver.
Further in paragraph 10 of his statement, Gashi then turns to the subject of the gun that would influence the police into taking the matter so seriously that the gang were apprehended by an armed response unit:
Maz also said that he needed to see one of the 5 (defendants) carrying a gun. It would make a dramatic photograph and would make the “gang” seem dangerous. Maz knew that I had a replica gun in my flat. (This gun was supplied to me by [the individual] who worked at APCOA). Maz told me that I had to get Defendant X to say that the plan was to kidnap Victoria Beckham. I told Defendant X what to say before letting Jaws into my flat with a secret camera. None of it was taken seriously. Defendant X played the role even adding that the gun was “his best friend”, trying to sound something out of Sopranos. The judge noticed Defendant X smiling and described the scene as “stagey”. That was because it was staged-managed.
The gun was never found on Defendant X, but in interviews with officers after his arrest, his evidence corroborated with the statement Gashi gave some two years after the case collapsed. Why Operation Canopus Two didn’t follow up leads on the gun or indeed why detectives didn’t pursue Defendant X’s claim at the time or after the collapse of the case itself is something of a mystery. Even 12 months after Gashi’s admission that the gun was his, Scotland Yard still never bothered to contact the gun supplier to confirm he sold the gun to Gashi.
It was media lawyer David Price who managed to trace the supplier and ask him to provide a statement for his client Alin Turcu – who claimed libel against News of the World – which backed Gashi’s claims. The supplier in his statement said:
I have read paragraph 10 of Florim’s witness statement dated 21 September 2005 (exhibit 1). I can confirm I sold the gun to Florim. It was a blank firing starting pistol model 2820 Mauser HSC. It was not a real gun. I have watched video CGB/10 and can confirm that the gun that appears in this video is identical in appearance to the gun I sold to Florim. The gold emblem (there is no other gun that I’m aware of that has the gold emblem on the right hand corner of the grip of the gun), shape, size, flat front and square flat trigger guard are consistent with then starting gun I supplied to Florim. The starting gun I sold to Florim was a German made copy of a genuine firearm. Someone who did not know about guns could think it was a real gun. To someone who knows about guns it clearly is not. I supplied this starting pistol to Florim in July 2002. I have had no contact with him since he left APCOA in October 2002. I HAD NO IDEA THE GUN I SOLD HIM WAS INVOLVED IN THE ALLEGED BECKHAM KIDNAP PLOT. I WAS NEVER CONTACTED BY THE POLICE REGARDING THIS MATTER.
Bellingcat can now reveal in 2003, Gashi contacted Operation Rumpus’s (Beckham kidnap case) investigating detective DI Ian Horrocks to make allegations against Mahmood that was to become the basis of Operation Canopus One. DI Horrocks went to Plymouth to interview Gashi where he was living at the time but Gashi had still – at this point – not made his claim the kidnap plot was a set-up.
Two years later however, in 2005, Gashi again contacted DI Horrocks making more allegations about Mahmood, but this time telling him the kidnap plot was a set-up. That then became the basis of Canopus Two and inquiries were then taken over by SCD6 unit. Within weeks,in September 2005, SCD6 and SCD11 officers interviewed Gashi twice in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Vienna. In these interviews, Gashi told detectives, amongst other things, that:
- Beckham kidnap plot was a set-up
- While a traffic warden, his supervisor sold him a gun – which was not real – that he then supplied to the Beckham kidnap “gang”
- He and News of the World got a man who wasn’t a criminal to commit a crime, who got a four year sentence – Besnik Qema is STILL serving his sentence at the time.
After briefing S013 officers who were working with Mahmood on Red Mercury (as Mahmood himself was being criminally investigated), SCD6 decided to give him a clean bill of health. After all, both the Met and CPS needed their star witness Mahmood to testify for the crown in the Red Mercury case scheduled to start the FOLLOWING month. By taking Gashi’s claims seriously, they may well have jeopardised that case.
Mahmood once even gave an insight into his role for the police in the Red Mercury case in an interview to Press Gazette in 2008:
The entire job I was basically working for Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism squad. I was registered as a participating informant; every single movement I made was on their orders. Quite often, as it came out in court, I didn’t agree with what they were doing, but I had to do it as I was working for them.
Then, on October 17th 2005 the Guardian ran a Roy Greenslade piece under the headline; “Police probe News of the World stories” – it was a report into the existence of Operation Canopus Two. For the first time a police investigation into Mahmood was out in the open.
Scotland Yard is investigating the provenance of a number of stories published under the byline of Mazher Mahmood, the News of the World’s undercover reporter. The inquiries started after a man approached the police to claim that he had acted as an agent provocateur to provide sensational stories for the NoW. One of the exclusives he claims to have set up was the alleged plot by a gang to kidnap Victoria Beckham. The Yard took the man’s allegations seriously enough to send three detectives from its intelligence directorate to see him in Croatia last month. Two more detectives flew to see him in Vienna three weeks later. A Yard spokesman says inquiries into his claims are continuing.
Greenslade also revealed: “While in Vienna he (Gashi) gave formal interviews to lawyers from two firms representing men featured in NoW stories.”
By now, defence lawyers in the Red Mercury case were arguing for the judge to throw the case out on the basis of Gashi’s new allegations.
Greenslade’s story going public had forced Scotland Yard to call in Mahmood for questioning just days after the story breaking. When Mahmood was interviewed under caution he was asked why he relied on people like Gashi. He told detectives he got information from prostitutes and drug addicts, adding: “I’ve got bent police officers that are witnesses, that are informants.” But its clear detectives had no interest in truly investigating Gashi’s claims or even the “bent police officers” Mahmood said he had working for him.
Greenslade report continues:
Detectives concede privately that the man, Florim Gashi, may be seeking attention. He has a criminal record for dishonesty and, by his own admission, has a history of telling lies. But Gashi told the Guardian: “I am responsible for innocent people going to jail. I tricked them, and I’m ashamed. It’s time to tell the truth. Gashi’s new claims do not impress a senior detective who worked on the Beckham kidnap inquiry. “He appears to be telling a third version of his part in the kidnap,” he says. “It’s impossible to rely on his evidence.”
If Scotland Yard were wary about the reliability of Gashi’s new evidence, SCD6 had plenty of opportunities to test the evidence and seek an interview with the gun supplier (who could not be described as an unreliable witness) about the gun. They could have also traced Gashi’s girlfriend at the time, Dominique Morris. She too gave Price a witness statement for Turcu weeks before the gun supplier gave his in late 2006. Morris met Gashi while working APCOA Wandsworth in 2002. Her witness statement corroborates with the fact that Gashi did indeed own a gun:
I do not remember when it happened but one day Florim told me that he had a gun. It was certainly after Florim stopped working for APCOA which was in October 2002. He was carrying the gun around in his bag. I was really shocked but he assured me that it was not real. A while later, Florim asked me if I would look after his gun for him and he was adamant that it was not real and that I would not be doing anything wrong. He told me the reason he wanted me to look after it was because he was concerned about being found with the gun. I knew that he had done some work for Mazher Mahmood and the News of the World because he told me he had done a story for them about one our collegues at APCOA relating to drug dealing. He was also frequently on the phone to him but was secretive about their conversations.
Just as with the gun supplier, Morris was also shown the video recording of the gun which she identifies as likely to be the same gun she remembers Gashi having:
I have watched the video CGB/10. It is difficult to see the gun clearly in the video. However, I can see that it is similar to the one Florim gave me in several ways. It was a hand gun, was dark in colour and had a disc on the side. In the video the gun is described as heavy. The gun Florim gave me was also heavy. Although I’m no familiar with guns, it did not look fake, it was not like a toy gun and it looked like what I imagined a real gun to look like. I cannot say for sure that it was the same gun but there is nothing in the video or otherwise to make me think it is not the same gun. I was not aware Florim had any other gun.
Then on the the next paragraph of her witness statement, Morris explains why the gun was possibly never found by the police:
I was extremely nervous about having the gun even though Florim said it was a fake. At the time I was sharing a house with a person with whom I was very close. I do not wish to identify him because he has recently died, I’m very upset about it and do not not want his name dragged into this. I told him about the gun and he was furious. He told me that he would take the gun and keep it. Although as soon as I gave it to him he told me he was going to get rid of it. I have no idea what he did with it. Florim was very angry with me because he had wanted it back.
Three things that should be remembered:
1) Could Gashi’s evidence be relied upon?:
-There are two other reliable the gun suppliet and Morris that legitimise Gashi’s gun claims.
2) The gun is fake, not real:
-That is irrelevant. The gun was significant regardless if it was real or not. The police did not know that at the time and it was precisely why the Met took the gang serious and responded accordingly.
In February 2007, Greenslade, this time in London’s Evening Standard wrote:
The gun was crucial. It was the reason that the police had taken the matter so seriously, dispatching an armed squad to arrest the men.
Much was made of the fact that one of the gang – a Romanian medical student, – had obtained the gun. But if it had been supplied by Gashi, the News of the World’s informant, then it would severely weaken the notion that the men had been involved in a plot. It suggested that they had, after all, been set up. So I set about tracing the man who Gashi claimed to have supplied him with the gun. It wasn’t easy because Gashi had forgotten his name. He simply remembered that it was his former boss at a south London car park.Eventually, though, I discovered the man’s identity and he was later to confirm – on oath – that he had indeed sold Gashi the gun, a Mauser blank-firing starting pistol that had the appearance of a real gun.
3) The gun has never been found:
– This may be true but that doesn’t stop the police seeking witnesses who hold information linking the gun to Gashi as Price has demonstrated by simply seeking statements from them which Price eventually won the libel on appeal for his client Turcu in 2007.
In the week the case collapsed in 2003, The Scotsman also interestingly quoted police sources regarding DI Horrocks and the case itself:
In the wake of the exclusive, the News of the World even quoted Detective Inspector Ian Horrocks, of Scotland Yard’s kidnap and specialist investigations unit, expressing apparent rapturous praise of the paper. He said: “You’ve done a fantastic job and taken on dangerous criminals. We’re extremely grateful for your information.” However, even at the time, Scotland Yard’s firearms unit, SO19, drew criticism for the newspaper’s seemingly “close involvement” in a police firearms operation after it was granted rare permission to photograph the arrests of the suspects. According to police sources, Scotland Yard was “playing with fire” from day one by entering into a pact with a newspaper. The insider said: “Police officers are usually reluctant to be drawn into newspaper investigations. Their resentment of journalists treading on police territory is compounded by the knowledge that a newspaper’s evidence may not be precise enough satisfy a criminal court. They also know there is a danger that evidence may be contaminated by suggestions of intentional or unintentional entrapment. The legal ramifications of this case could cause a lot of problems for the newspaper.
Perhaps this is why there isn’t much appetite within Scotland Yard in the current 2014/5 investigation into Mahmood, as the Metropolitan Police are not just investigating him but whether they like it or not, themselves too.
Also under fire for their role is the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), having been asked to reopen the case by a lawyer for one of the five defendants in late 2014 – ironically and not surprisingly, Defendant X. The CPS are now claiming they’re unable to find their files for the case as it was some time ago, yet seem to locate files from Mahmood cases going back further.
Curiously, once the Beckham kidnap case had collapsed, the judge referred it to the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith because of the payments to Gashi. So why was it signed it off by CPS in the first place when Mahmood had already disclosed the payments in a police interview BEFORE the charging of the defendants?
Nearly six months after Mahmood was effectively called a liar by a judge, there seems to be so many questions, but very few answers provided in the astonishing relationship between Mahmood and our justice system as victim lawyers still seek disclosure.