Rupert Murdoch's News Corp could face compensation claims that would "dwarf" its £330 million bill for phone-hacking, it was claimed yesterday, after the journalist known as the "Fake Sheikh" was convicted of perverting justice.
Mazher Mahmood, the 53-year-old "king of the sting", faces jail after he and his driver, Alan Smith, were found to have tampered with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of the pop star Tulisa Contostavlos.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission is now reviewing the convictions of six people who were found guilty of offences as a result of evidence provided by Mahmood, whose career has spanned the News of the World, the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday.
But up to 20 celebrities and other subjects of newspaper investigations who claim their lives were ruined by dishonesty on the part of Mahmood are pursuing compensation claims that could run into hundreds of millions of pounds, according to the lawyer representing them.
Mark Lewis, who also represented victims of phone hacking including the parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, said he had been contacted by people who had gone to jail or lost their livelihoods on the basis of disputed evidence from Mahmood.
They include John Alford, the former London's Burning actor, whose 1999 conviction and imprisonment for supplying drugs to Mahmood is currently under review by the CCRC, and who has always protested his innocence.
Lewis, of the law firm Seddons, estimated that News Corp could face a total bill of £800m if the compensation claims are successful.
He said: "The awards could potentially be much higher because whereas the phone hacking victims did not even know they had been victims in some cases, here we have people who have been to prison, and who have never worked again. Some of the cases go back 20 or even 30 years."
The CCRC said that the six cases it currently has under review could rise, as other people were trying to appeal against convictions through the courts but were likely to turn to the CCRC as a last resort if they were unsuccessful.
Following a two-week trial at the Old Bailey, a jury found Mahmood and Smith, 67, guilty of plotting to pervert the course of justice. The court had heard that the pair conspired to suppress evidence in Contostavlos' trial, which was thrown out at Southwark Crown Court in July 2014.
ABOUT MAZHER MAHMOOD
Also known as: The Fake Sheikh; Sam Fernando
Role: Undercover journalist
Born: March 22, 1963, Birmingham
Journalist since: 1981. Worked for News of the World, Sunday People and The Sunday Times
Notable journalism sting targets:
George Galloway and (allegedly) Jeremy Corbyn
Newcastle United bosses Freddy Shepherd and Douglas Hall
Sophie, Countess of Wessex
The former N-Dubz singer had been accused of arranging for Mahmood to be sold £800 of cocaine by one of her contacts following an elaborate sting for the Sun on Sunday in May 2013.
Smith told police he had overheard a conversation in which the former X Factor judge spoke about a family member who had a drugs problem and talked about cocaine in a negative way.
But a day later, after speaking to Mahmood and emailing him his draft statement, the singer's anti-drugs comments were removed, the court heard. When a judge was told about the discrepancy the case against her was dropped.
Mahmood, from Purley, south London, has been suspended by News UK since the collapse of the Tulisa trial. A spokesperson for News UK, a subsidiary of New York-based News Corp, said: "We are disappointed by the news that Mazher Mahmood has been convicted. We do not have further comment at this time."
Mahmood claims to have helped put more than 100 criminals behind bars and risked his life on a daily basis to expose gun runners, drug dealers and crime gangs.
Celebrities who have been caught out by his undercover persona include the Countess of Wessex, who was taped calling the Queen "the old dear", the Duchess of York and Sven-Goran Eriksson, who revealed his plans to quit as England head coach.
The Crown Prosecution Service has since dropped a number of live criminal cases in which Mahmood was due to be a witness and announced a review of 25 past convictions.
The CPS said the 25 cases it had reviewed involved 41 defendants.
Mahmood and Smith will be sentenced on October 21.