A FORMER CORONATION Street actor is set to be a key witness in TWO landmark court cases involving the now defunct News of the World and the paper’s “chief investigative reporter”, Mahzer Mahmood, known as “the Fake Sheikh.”
Bruce Jones, who played Les Battersby in the long-running ITV soap, says he is ready to testify in the upcoming civil trial of former London’s Burning Star, John Alford, who is also suing Rupert Murdoch’s daily paper The Sun.
Alford has launched a claim after allegedly being targeted by illegal private investigators and phone hackers before, during and after a Fake Sheikh “sting” in 1997.
Another victim, a celebrity hypnotist and magician called Jonathan Royle, is appealing against a criminal conviction at the Court of Appeal.
Both men were sent to jail after News of the World “stings” by Mahmood.
Bruce Jones is also set to launch his own lawsuit against the ex-Investigations Editor who, he claims, “ruined his life”.
Jones was resident in No.5 Coronation Street between 1997 and 2007.
Known for his colourful lifestyle both on and off the set, Bruce Jones was open about his battles with alcohol – checking himself into rehab at the famous Priory clinic.
In March 2007 he and his wife Sandra Jones were in Malaga airport after visiting friends when they got talking to a mystery man.
Sandra remembers that the man, who she later suspected was an informant for the Sunday paper, smelled as if he had been ‘living in a pub’ and was much the worse for wear.
The middle-man mentioned he had been working in the famous Lineker’s Bar – owned by the brother of BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker – in Marbella.
He was very interested in Bruce.
By the time Sandra had got back from visiting the toilet he had exchanged numbers with Bruce and they were chatting.
Bruce remembers that he said he could arrange for Bruce to make a ‘personal appearance’ in Dubai, for which he would be paid £10,000.
PA’s, as live shows are known, are a common way for soap stars to supplement their wages and break into different fan bases. Bruce told the informant that he was interested.
Later, Bruce agreed to turn up for a meeting to discuss a deal involving personal appearances. He agreed to be picked-up at his local pub in Disley, in Cheshire.
From there, he was taken to the Rectory Hotel in Stockport where he met a mysterious Asian man. Bruce didn’t know it at the time, but the man was in fact Mahzer Mahmood – an undercover News of the World reporter known as “the Fake Sheikh”.
Bruce claims that he was plied with drink, including wine which he was offered but never touched.
Then the Fake Sheikh introduced him to two women who joined them at their table.
At this point, Bruce’s wife, Sandra turned up with one of their granddaughters.
Bruce recalled: “The Asian guy kept going on about these two women – they were there when my wife arrived.
“She recognised one of them….. I don’t know what they were doing there but he kept trying to make me go to the room… and I wouldn’t go. I’m not going with strange women. I was married, I’ve got grandkids. I wasn’t going to do it.”
In fact, Bruce’s wife Sandra says she was introduced to the two women and got to know them a bit more. One of them was a young attractive model-like woman and the other claimed to be her “Greek Auntie.”
However, a couple of years later Sandra saw the older woman on a TV show and by reading the credits at the end possibly identified her as the mother of famous chat show host. However, this has not been formally confirmed.
Mahmood then took Bruce to another pub and kept buying him drinks.
Bruce says he wanted to stay relatively sober because he felt he was being assessed for the personal appearance in Dubai.
He added: “At the end of the night, he said “Right, I’ll ring you tomorrow about Dubai.’
“I said, ‘Don’t bother ringing me, I’ve just had enough.. this is a joke.’
“So, I got in the car and went home and I asked the driver who is that guy?
“He said that he works for a big company in Dubai… and I said, ‘oh he does work in Dubai’.. and he went ‘yeah.. that’s why he wants to get you over there’.. and I said, ‘he’s never mentioned it all day long.”
Bruce says he heard no more about the meeting until the following Sunday when his mate rang him and told him he was on the front page on the News of the World.
Bruce told Byline Investigates: “It said, ‘Bruce Jones; 19 pints of Guinness and God knows how many bottles of wine – chats up 2 women all day’ and the story just went…
“When Sandra read it, she started to cry and she said, ‘I knew there was something wrong.’
And that’s when I found out who the Asian guy was – it had his name on the bottom of the page – Mahmood or whatever he was called. It was a set-up. It also said I gave storylines away – I’ve never given story lines (about Coronation Street) away.”
For Granada – the producers of Coronation Street – this was a bridge too far.
They suspended Bruce from the soap – which had been Bruce’s life for ten years. Bruce says they were very decent about it – and paid him for a year.
Bruce says that he and his agent, Tony Nyland, went back to the Rectory Hotel to talk to the manager about what had happened the day in March when he had met Mahzer Mahmood.
Bruce added: “He said, ‘if you had of gone to that room there was cameras all over it – microphones. No one used that room – it wasn’t used all night it was paid for but no one used it – unless you went up there.’ ”
Bruce’s agent, Tony Nyland remembers that the week after the story came out he received a phone call from another journalist at the News of the World offering £30k if Bruce would agree that he had drunk 19 pints and chatted up the two women. He refused.
Bruce says after the article came out and his career at Coronation Street ended he lost pretty much everything.
Bruce said: “I lost my house, I lost my wife – we separated, it caused a lot of damage and I couldn’t handle it, I ended up in a rehab for depression. I was living in people’s houses and I couldn’t cope with my life anymore – I didn’t want it. I hated my life. I let my wife down, I let everyone down and most of all I let me down. And it’s all through him, I will not ever forgive that man for what he’s done to my life and other people’s lives. It’s soul destroying what you can do to people and get away with it.”
But Bruce says that now he’s back. “It took a while. I’m fine with it now. I’m happy with life the way it is – doing films.” With old editions of Coronation Street now being aired on TV he is recognised and asked for selfies wherever he goes.
Bruce’s wife Sandra recalls that after the article was published – which both claim pretty much ruined his life – the man that they had met in Malaga airport wrote to them from prison asking Bruce for money. When they had met he had been out on license – which means he was not allowed to travel abroad – and had been rearrested and sent back to prison.