Leveson Inquiry: Mazher Mahmood admits tampering with records
FORMER News of the World investigations editor Mazher Mahmood has admitted that he once “foolishly” changed electronic records to cover up a mistake in his reporting.
Mr Mahmood – who came to be known as the “Fake Sheikh” for his undercover work – resigned from the Sunday Times in 1989 after executives discovered he had tampered with a file in the newspaper’s computer room, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards heard.
He told the hearing: “I acknowledge it was wrong. I was young, I was naive, it was a foolish thing to do, I acknowledge that.”
The incident arose from a complaint about a story Mr Mahmood wrote saying a police chief inspector had been demoted to constable following a conviction for drink-driving when he had only been reduced to the rank of inspector, the inquiry heard.
Roy Greenslade, then the Sunday Times’s managing editor (news), said in a witness statement that the reporter claimed the mistake came from material supplied by a news agency in Devon. The agency showed that its original story was correct, but the paper’s computer records contained a version of the submitted copy with the mistake.
The Sunday Times’s news editor, Michael Williams, learned that Mr Mahmood had recently visited the paper’s computer room, which was “off limits” to editorial staff, the inquiry heard.
Mr Greenslade, who is now a media commentator and professor of journalism at City University, said he and Mr Williams suspected the journalist had tampered with the file, although he denied this when questioned.
Senior Sunday Times executives agreed that Mr Mahmood should be fired, but when they emerged from their meeting they learned he had already resigned, the hearing was told.
Mr Mahmood, who was 24 at the time, told the inquiry: “I was a young reporter, and I had had a series of run-ins with Mr Greenslade while at the paper. I made a mistake ... Rather than incur the wrath of an executive I didn’t get on with, I foolishly thought the best way would be to cover my mistake. It was the wrong thing to do, and I resigned.”
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry last July in response to revelations that the News of the World commissioned a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone after she disappeared in 2002.
The first part of the inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the Press in general and is due to produce a report by September.
The second part, examining the extent of unlawful activities by journalists, will not begin until detectives have completed their investigation into alleged phone hacking and corrupt payments to police.
The editor of the Press Association, the UK’s national news agency, said yesterday that any new newspaper regulator that emerges from the Leveson Inquiry will need wider powers.
Jonathan Grun praised the “really worthwhile” work carried out by the existing Press Complaints Commission (PCC), but he added: “I think the flaw in the PCC’s operations is actually contained in its name. It’s just involved in resolving complaints.”
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