News of the World hack Mazher Mahmood was unmasked in a BBC documentary last week.
The Panorama programme heard from former celebrity stings and associates who said that he set them up and targeted them unfairly.
Mahmood is the subject of a police investigation into possible perjury charges after the collapsed trial of singer Tulisa Contostavlos.
But his story is also about attacks on ordinary people, a web of corrupt police and private detectives and their relationship with the press.
Socialist Worker has long argued that the murder of Daniel Morgan (see below) and private investigators Southern Investigations lie at the heart of the hacking scandal.
The firm acted as brokers between newspapers, such as the News of the World, and cops who wanted to sell information.
Southern Investigations provided material through a variety of illegal means.
They included paying police officers for records, obtaining phone records and using “Trojan Horse” emails to hack computers.
A cop would tell Southern that someone was dealing drugs. The firm would have drugs planted on someone or have someone try to buy drugs. The press would be in on the act. The papers got an exclusive, the cops got an arrest and everyone, including Southern, was paid for their trouble.
Mahmood told the Leveson Inquiry, “I stopped working with them at the end of 1992 or early 1993.”
But in 1999 the company carried out “confidential inquiries” into “illegal immigration” after receiving a “request” from “Maz Mahmood”.
One police document from an investigation into Southern from the same year reads, “Source met Maz, a News of the World reporter.
“On this occasion Maz was with a plain clothes officer. The officer was selling a story to Maz.”
The story in question was one of entrapping immigrants.
Mahmood and his team would dump a group of migrants at a detention centre and try to get them deported after taking cash off them for work.
Other victims included immigrants in the “gang” entrapped into a supposed plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham.
After the collapse of the trial of the mythical gang, the cops questioned Mahmood.
He told them “I’ve got bent police officers that are witnesses.” The police did not deem it necessary to follow this up.
There were changes at the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and at the News of the World (NOTW) at the end of the 1990s.
The new MPS Commissioner—John Stevens—wanted a closer relationship with the press. At NOTW the new editor—Rebekah Wade—was keen to get headlines.
In 1999, NOTW commissioned Southern Investigations to put Stevens, then Deputy MPS Commissioner under surveillance. It’s unclear whether this was for a story or for leverage.
But a problem developed. Southern boss Jonathan Rees was jailed for perverting the course of justice and NOTW could no longer use the firm.
So it moved some of the operations in house.
People who had been linked with, worked for, or commissioned Southern Investigations became the basis of the operation.
Mahmood became the new team’s Investigations Editor.
In 2002 the police again looked at the Daniel Morgan murder. Officer Sid Fillery asked the NOTW’s Investigations to undertake surveillance of the officer heading the inquiry.
The covert surveillance was rumbled. Police officers questioned one van occupant—who turned out to be Mazher Mahmood’s favoured surveillance photographer, Bradley Page. No police action was taken.
After retiring from the MPS Commissioner’s post, John Stevens became a News International columnist. Paid at £5,000–£7,000 per article his journalistic workload could not have been too onerous as each article ghost written for him.
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