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CMU Beef Of The Week #216: Tulisa v The Fake Sheikh

By | Published on Friday 25 July 2014


If you’re talking about the biggest dispute of the week, which I guess we are, then there can be no other than Tulisa Contostavlos v Mazher Mahmood.

Undercover reporter Mahmood has for two decades uncovered dodgy goings on in the business world, though most often in sport it seems, most famously in his ‘Fake Sheikh’ persona, originally at the News Of The World, and now The Sun On Sunday (aka, the New News Of The World).

Last year, Contostavlos became his latest victim, being convinced to arrange the supply of half an ounce of cocaine. Thus proving, The Sun On Sunday and Mahmood claimed, that she was involved in the shady world of drugs. Tulisa, meanwhile, claimed that the sting was entrapment . She believed, she said, that she was being offered a lucrative part in a Bollywood film and was acting out the part of a ‘bad girl’ she believed would be required of her in the film.

It’s not the first time Mahmood has used this sting, or one like it. In 1997, he posed as an Arabian prince and convinced actor John Alford to supply him with cocaine and cannabis. Alford also claimed entrapment, arguing that he had believed that he was in line to be part of the celebrity line-up at the opening of a new Dubai nightclub.

The judge agreed that entrapment had been involved, but told Alford that he could nonetheless have backed out of the deal at any time. The actor was sentenced to nine months in prison when the case came to trial in 1999.

Could the same fate have befallen Tulisa? Probably not, because she had a different defence planned. A statement given by Judge Alistair McCreath when the latest fake sheikh trial collapsed this week explained that the singer’s defence, had the court been able to hear it, was that she had been pretending to be more streetwise than she actually is, because she thought that would make her look better for the film role.

She never had any intention of actually going through with the deal, it was claimed, but as Mahmood continued to push her to come through, it became harder to avoid it. In the end though, her friend Michael Coombs, aka rapper Mike GLC, did the deal without telling her “out of a misplaced desire on his part to help her out of her dilemma”.

Contostavlos said in a statement outside the court: “This case only happened because Mahmood and his team tricked me into believing I was auditioning for a major movie role. They targeted me at a time when things were going badly for me and they had no mercy. Mahmood got me and my team completely intoxicated and persuaded me to act the part of a bad, rough, ghetto girl. They recorded this and produced this as evidence when I thought it was an audition. It was a terrible thing to do”.

Coombs, who had pleaded guilty to supplying a class A drug, also had his case thrown out, after discrepancies in testimony from Mahmood raised concerns that “the integrity of the court would be compromised by allowing the trial to go ahead”.

McCreath said that differences between evidence Mahmood gave at a pre-trial hearing in June and then during the trial last week meant that there were “strong grounds” to suggest that the hack had lied in court. The judge said it was also believed that the reason for this may have been “to conceal the fact that he had been manipulating the case” by trying to get his driver, Alan Smith, to change his account of comments he heard Contostavlos make about her “disapproval of drugs”.

Following the case being thrown out, The Sun suspended Mahmood, pending an internal investigation. It also put out a slightly non-committal statement: “We are very disappointed with this outcome, but do believe the original investigation was conducted within the bounds of the law and the industry’s code. This was demonstrated by the CPS decision to prosecute. The Sun, of course, takes the Judge’s remarks very seriously”.

While the Sun;s investigation may have been legal and within industry rules, it does still beg the question of what the public interest of the sting was. If we believe Contostavlos’s defence, then all it’s shown is that if you offer someone a multi-million pound movie deal and a lot of alcohol, then they might do things that are out of character to ensure they stay in your favour. And you probably could have found any old popstar to do that.

Court papers also claim that Tulisa was offered money for sex, the suggestion possibly being that Mahmood and his team were throwing various vices at the singer to see if something would stick.

Indeed, Contostavlos’ slightly ridiculous ‘codewords’ for drugs – “white sweets”, “green sweets” – don’t suggest a hardened drug dealer, living life on the edge with no clue where the right side of the tracks even is.

But questions over the validity of the original story are perhaps now not the most pertinent, following the accusation that Mahmood lied in court – which could potentially result in perjury charges. The Independent reported yesterday that the Crown Prosecution service is now investigating the undercover reporter in not only this, but 30 other criminal cases, to assess his credibility as a witness.

Tulisa’s trial may have collapsed, but this story is not over just yet.