Saturday 7 December 2019

Documentary poised to reveal identity of 'Fake Sheikh' Mazher Mahmood pulled at last minute

Programme-makers had been given permission to show recent photos of the 'Fake Sheikh'

James Cusick

The BBC’s plans to broadcast an expose of the under-cover methods of the News of the World’s “fake sheikh” was dramatically “adjourned” after a late intervention by the investigative journalist at the centre of the programme.

Mazher Mahmood is understood to have handed new evidence to lawyers acting for the BBC’s Panorama programme at 7.00pm last night, an hour and a half before the programme was due to be broadcast on BBC1.

Although details of the late intervention were not revealed, BBC sources said the programme’s editors felt it was necessary to address the information Mr Mahmood had handed over. This is now expected to be included in a re-edit of the programme and does not mean the corporation have indefinitely pulled the documentary expose.

A BBC source told the Independent that plans remained in place to broadcast the Panorama as early as possible this week.

Mr Mahmood’s lawyers from solicitors Kingsley Napley and counsel for the BBC had spent most of yesterday preparing for a hearing by the Court of Appeal. The former NOTW journalist, who is currently suspended from his post as a staff journalist with the Sun on Sunday, had tried to win a court injunction last week that would have prevented Panorama revealing his identity.

As the “fake sheikh” Mr Mahmood claimed his undercover identity, which led to his other nickname of the “king of the sting”,  needed to be protected, and claimed the Panorama programme would threaten the security of himself and his family, along with threatening his future ability to operate as an under-cover investigator.

An injunction to block the programme was refused last week, with the Court of Appeal yesterday backing that ruling and refusing to halt the planned broadcast. However the last-minute new evidence lodged by Mr Mahmood’s legal team, changed the corporation’s plans to broadcast the programme last night at 8.30 on BBC 1.

Explaining the decision to postpone the programme,  a BBC spokesperson said “The BBC had intended to broadcast Panorama, Fake Sheikh: Exposed following the Court of Appeal’s decision earlier today to allow the BBC to broadcast images of Mazher Mahmood. Shortly before transmission Mr Mahmood’s lawyers submitted new information relating to one of the cases in the programme , which as a responsible broadcaster, the BBC needs to evaluate. Once this has been done we will broadcast Fake Sheikh: Exposed including recent footage of Mr Mahmood as planned.”

Mr Mahmood is represented by Kingsley Napley,  the solicitors who recently represented Rebecca Brooks, the former chief executive of News International,  throughout the lengthy phone hacking trial.

The injunction last week sought to mask any images taken of Mr Mahmood after 2006 which were not already in the public domain.

The judge, Sir David Eady, refused the injunction saying the court had “no reason to restrict the corporation’s [BBC] freedom of speech or editorial discretion.” Over the weekend the BBC decided not to publish or broadcast images of Mr Mahmood in Panorama trailers to allow his lawyers time to lodge the late appeal on Mr Eady’s decision. The broadcast had already been delayed once.

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