Mazher Mahmood, the investigative journalist known as the "fake sheikh" because of his most famous disguise, has been jailed for 15 months for tampering with evidence during a criminal trial that was sparked by one of his stories.
Mahmood, 53, from Croydon, was convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice with his driver, Alan Smith, 67, who received a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years.
Mahmood built up a fearsome reputation as an undercover journalist for the News of the World during the 1990s and 2000s, and later at the Sun on Sunday, publishing many stories about celebrities, sports stars, and criminals.
But the Old Bailey heard in a two-week trial earlier this month that Mahmood conspired with Smith to withdraw and alter a police statement about the singer and X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos, who faced a charge of assisting a drug deal in 2014.
Contostavlos was arrested and charged after a Sun on Sunday story in 2013 alleged that she had offered to arrange the sale of £800 worth of cocaine to Mahmood, who was posing as a Bollywood film producer with a potential part to offer her.
Mahmood was called as a witness but the trial collapsed after inconsistencies in his evidence emerged and the trial judge said there were "strong grounds" for believing he may have lied to the court.
Smith, the court heard, had initially told police in a draft statement that he drove Contostavlos and two friends home after they had met with Mahmood and overheard her making negative comments about drugs, referring to a family member who was dependent on cocaine.
However, Smith then told police he wished to retract this element of the statement. Mahmood denied having spoken to Smith about the statement, but admitted having seen a copy of it, which then caused the judge to abandon the trial and acquit Contostavlos.
The trial earlier this month established that the timing and sequence of phone and email contact between Mahmood and Smith showed the pair collaborated in trying to change the statement.
They also sought to conceal their communications about their plan by destroying or deleting messages, the court heard.
Mahmood, along with Smith, was then charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice in September 2015 and suspended from the Sun on Sunday.
Simon Ringrose, specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement: "Mr Mahmood portrayed himself as the master of subterfuge and as the ‘King of the Sting’, but on this occasion it is he and Mr Smith who have been exposed.
"Mahmood and Smith tampered with a statement and then attempted to cover their tracks through lies and the destruction of evidence. By piecing together the various strands in this matter, the CPS was able to present a compelling case to the jury."
Detective Constable Jim Morrison, the lead officer in the case, said at the conclusion of the trial: "This case is a reminder that perverting the course of justice is a very serious offence that goes to heart of our justice system. We will always take action where statements or other evidence has been tampered with."
The story that led to Contostavlos being charged was published in the Sun on Sunday. An earlier version of this post misstated the name of the newspaper.
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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