British tabloid's 'Fake Sheikh' says unaware of hacking

12th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The former investigations editor at the now-closed News of the World told a public inquiry Monday that he had not been aware of any phone hacking at the tabloid, while defending his undercover work.

Mazher Mahmood, also known as the "Fake Sheikh" after one of the disguises he regularly used to dupe targets, said he first heard of it after the arrest of royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed for voicemail hacking in 2007.

"I was not (aware). The first time I heard about it was after an arrest," Mahmood told the Leveson inquiry, which is examining press conduct following the hacking row that forced the closure of the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid in July.

Media were not allowed into the room when Mahmood gave his evidence, in order to protect his identity, although his words were broadcast in an annex and online.

Mahmood rejected testimony to the inquiry by another former NOTW journalist, Paul McMullan, that hacking was perfectly acceptable, saying: "That certainly doesn't reflect my experience of the News of the World."

However, he conceded that had "seldom" been in the newspaper's office because of the nature of his work.

Mahmood, who now works at Murdoch's Sunday Times, claimed his work had led to more than 260 "successful criminal prosecutions", the most high-profile case involving three top Pakistani cricketers jailed last month for match-fixing.

The reporter said he had targeted people who were guilty of criminality, moral wrongdoing and hypocrisy, adding that only a minority were celebrities.

All his investigations were scrutinised carefully by lawyers and the newsdesk, he insisted, adding that tip-offs normally came from well-established informants but were "thoroughly checked" before they were written up.

He conceded these checks appeared rather informal when compared to the "stringent" verification process at the Sunday Times broadsheet.

He also said he was always careful to abide by the much-criticised voluntary code of conduct enforced by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) watchdog, to the extent of even being pulled off investigations to answer complaints.

© 2011 AFP

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