To a casual observer, the man slinking into the Old Bailey to face justice under the cover of a hoodie might just look like another non-descript thug confronted by charges of violent wrongdoing against an innocent victim.
That assumption would be very nearly right, since the individual in question was Mazher Mahmood, who, according to the judge in the criminal trial against Tulisa and her co-defendant, Michael Coombs (aka Mike GLC), had sought to mislead the court in an effort to secure a drug dealing conviction against Tulisa and her hapless friend. According to the prosecution, Mr Mahmood wanted to land a big story to impress his new employers. The violence against his victim emerges from Tulisa's own harrowing account of the catastrophic impact of Mr Mahmood's actions on her.
The judge in the Tulisa trail concluded that there were "strong grounds" to conclude that Mr Mahmood had lied to the court when he said one thing at a pre-trail hearing and then contradicted himself at the trial. So sure was the judge that Mr Mahmood had sought to deceive him that not only did he acquit Tulisa, but he even threw out the case against Coombs despite the fact that he had pleaded guilty to the offence with which he had been charged as a result of Mr Mahmood's handiwork.
Mazher Mahmood refuses to give evidence at his own trial
Both Mahmood and his accomplice and long-time driver Alan Smith have just refused to give evidence in their defence of the charges against them. "The conspiracy to pervert the course of justice is now a conspiracy of silence," prosecutor Sarah Forshaw QC said in her closing submission. "You may think if they were innocent men with nothing to hide, wouldn't they be shouting it from the rooftops in front of you," she told the jury. It is striking that Mr Mahmood was keen to give evidence at Tulisa's trial but determined not to do so at his own.
When the Tulisa trial collapsed Mr Mahmood went to ground, and News UK, his sponsor and employer, tried to parry criticism against it by declaring (or should I say "vowing") to conduct a comprehensive enquiry into the actions of its most notorious reporter. Nobody who knows anything about the ethics and practices of News UK believed for a minute that any such enquiry would ever be conducted; or at least if it was that the outcome of the enquiry would ever be made public. The outcome of no enquiry has been declared, and nor will it ever be, since from the outset all that News UK was interested in was trying to make sure that the wrongdoing that the trial judge accused Mr Mahmood of being guilty was swept deep under the carpet.
The rank hypocrisy of The Sun
The breath-taking hypocrisy of The Sun further emerges from the complete absence of any coverage of the trial of its notorious "Fake Sheikh" in its news pages. Contrast this with the front page blast against Tulisa when the paper broke the story:
Newspapers like The Sun act like the archetypal playground bully, looking for some perceived weak victim to torment (in this instance for commercial gain rather than mere hubris). Just as Mr Mahmood has "form" for passing judgment on the innocent, so does his title have form concerning a girl from a very tough background (I legalled her autobiography) who through hard work and determination made a successful career as a musician and media personality.
The Sun's serial bullying of Tulisa
The first major swipe The Sun took at Tulisa was in the aftermath of her successful action against those who had posted a sex tape of her online; a legal process which The Sun falsely described as having been a costly failure; and allegation which I forced it to retract.
The next incarnation of The Sun's bullying mentality was an article which it published accusing Tulisa of being a "homewrecker" when she started to date Leicester City star Danny Simpson in November 2012. After spending around three years "standing by" the allegation (which is the cliché used by a newspaper in these circumstances), it eventually conceded that the allegations were false and paid substantial damages and costs. However, this was only after it had suffered a comprehensive defeat in the libel proceedings that Tulisa launched against them, which came when their efforts to persuade the judiciary that "homewrecker" meant something other than "homewrecker" had finally to be abandoned.
The framing of Tulisa by The Sun and Mr Mahmood occurred just over a year later in December 2013. You would be forgiven for thinking that given what has emerged about Mr Mahmood's conduct (whether or not he is ultimately found guilty), and the sponsorship of his conduct by The Sun newspaper, and the costs and expense that the title has forced Tulisa to incur, along with the taxpayers' liability for the court process, that some form of apology would be forthcoming. Not a bit of it. All invitations to The Sun to apologise to Tulisa (including my own) have been firmly rebuffed.
The ugly truth about The Sun and its peers
So what does this tell us about The Sun and its peers, such as The Mirror (who also falsely alleged that Tulisa was a "homewrecker")? The British red top operates entirely outside any moral or ethical infrastructure. It routinely indulges in deception and rank hypocrisy, and will employ an army of lawyers to ensure that its wrongdoing stays hidden; rather like Mr Mahmood under his hoodie.
There will always be highly paid professionals – in this case principally lawyers – who will be willing use every legal device they can (ethical and unethical) to ensure the routine wrongdoing of titles such as The Sun and The Mirror to remain unaccounted for. The Independent Press Standards Organisation can also be relied on to play its part in ensuring that newspapers such as The Sun and The Mirror can always cast their aspersions with a prominence which vastly exceeds that of the correction or apology.
Individuals such as Mahmood will always have the comfort of knowing that the vast resources of media giants such as News UK will be deployed to the max to ensure that any wrongdoing on the part of its own will have the thickest possible veil drawn over it.
We will find out in around ten days whether the same vast resources that secured the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks over her phone hacking charges achieve the same outcome for Mazher Mahmood. Let us hope that they do not, and that by a gradual process of accretion, the British tabloid press is forced into accepting the generally accepted moral and ethical norms which – were they to be adopted – would transform the quality of British tabloid journalism.
Jonathan Coad is a specialist media lawyer and partner at Lewis Silkin LLP.