The News of the World’s “Fake Sheikh” was accused in court today of using phone hacking to set up the sting on Pakistan cricketers.
Mazher Mahmood, the defunct newspaper’s investigations editor, “categorically” denied he had used illegal methods to expose the story.
He said that defence lawyers were “clutching at straws” and “barking down the wrong tree”, during heated exchanges in court on day six of the corruption trial.
It was claimed that the original source who tipped off the journalist about the story had illegally intercepted text messages from the phone of Mazhar Majeed, the players’ agent.
Mahmood admitted the information he received from his “confidential” informant included downloaded text messages from Majeed’s phone, but denied they were gained illegally.
Alexander Milne, QC, representing Mohammad Asif, then asked the journalist: “Did you use phone hacking during the course of your investigation?”
Mahmood said: “Categorically no.”
He said that the only people at the News of the World who knew the mobile telephone number of Majeed were the editor, the paper’s barrister and himself – and added that “clearly” none of them had hacked his phone.
Mahmood said: “This story is nothing to do with phone hacking. I appreciate you are clutching at straws here, but there was no phone hacking involved.”
Mr Milne then claimed that Mahmood had made attempts to meet Asif after the story had broken – posing as a lawyer and flying out to Lahore, Pakistan, to obtain more information from him.
The journalist answered angrily that it was a “ludicrous” claim and said that it meant Asif was a “a liar as well as a match fixer”, after making such an accusation.
The undercover reporter, who spent 10 hours giving evidence and being cross examined, said: “It would have been ludicrous for me to go and meet him,” he said. “I had been receiving death threats. The last thing I wanted to do was to meet members of the Pakistan team.”
Mahmood was questioned for more than half an hour about phone hacking, and forced repeatedly to deny he knew anything about it at the News of the World.
“I had no knowledge of phone hacking and what other reporters at the paper were doing in my 20 years at the paper,” he said. “I had nothing to do with phone hacking or illegal interception of voicemails.”
The undercover reporter added that the demise of the newspaper was “very sad”. But he added: “I hope that the guys who were responsible for that [phone hacking] go down for it.”
Mahmood gave a bung of £150,000 to “fixer” Majeed, who arranged for three no balls to be bowled at the Lord’s Test match against England last year, the court has heard.
He admitted it was the largest amount of money News of the World ever paid for a sting.
The journalist said that the evidence in the case was handed over to Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain, and Asif, deny a conspiracy to cheat and accepting corrupt payments.
The case continues.
Follow RDJ Edwards in court on Twitter – @Cricketer_RDJ