EXCLUSIVE

Ex-Mail on Sunday journalist ‘lied to police’ in bid to discredit fraud-probe businessman

  • FRESH CLAIMS that a former senior business reporter gave a false witness statement come from ex-businessman Michael Ward
  • WARD says that journalist manipulated act of vandalism to have the finger pointed at him
  • ACCUSATION almost landed Ward in jail in run up to his fraud trial
  • WARD draws comparisons to Fake Sheikh’s failed cocaine sting on Tulisa Contosavlos – which saw the rogue reporter jailed for 15 months
Michael Ward

By Chris Allen & Graham Johnson


AS X-FACTOR judge Tulisa Contostavlos’ drug trial collapsed amid a storm of false testimony and lies, retired businessman Michael Ward could only hang his head and sigh.

Not because he believed for a second the N-Dubz singer – entrapped by Rupert Murdoch’s disgraced fake sheikh Mazher Mahmood into brokering a cocaine deal – might actually be guilty.

But because he too – he claims – was the victim of a newspaper conspiracy that landed him in the dock. 

In Tulisa’s case, the lies of Mahmood and his driver Alan Smith – who was rumbled changing his police witness statement – were exposed in court.

The singer walked free alongside rapper Michael Coombs – who had previously pleaded guilty to supplying £800 of cocaine to Mahmood – when a judge ordered their charges be dropped.

Tulisa Contostavlos outside Southwark Crown Court. (ITV)

However for Mr Ward, a prison cell and financial ruin awaited while an allegedly false statement given to police by a former Mail on Sunday (MoS) journalist went undetected.

Said Mr Ward, 73, from Worcestershire: ‘I may not be an A-list celebrity but the crime is the same and I lost everything.

‘In Tulisa’s case, the falsification of a witness statement was deemed so important in its own right as to even acquit a man who had pleaded guilty.

‘In my case, I found evidence that this journalist lied to the police and the Serious Fraud Office, I repeatedly asked for it to be investigated – but no one ever did.’

Michael Ward with Peter Stringfellow

In August 1995, former nightclub impresario Michael Ward was weeks away from facing trial accused of faking business papers.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) prosecution followed a series of damning stories in the MoS on Mr Ward’s firm, European Leisure.

Mr Ward recalls: ‘I had an early-morning call from my barrister telling me to get to court. Suddenly and without warning, the prosecution wanted me thrown in prison and my bail revoked. 

‘They claimed I was a violent person, engaged in a programme of fear to discourage witnesses from giving evidence. I felt sick to my stomach. I’ve never committed a violent act in my life.’

The urgent court summons had stemmed from a letter sent to the SFO by an ex-MoS reporter who had worked on stories for the paper about Mr Ward’s financial affairs.

Pedestrians walk past the sign outside the headquarters of the Serious Fraud Office in London. (Alamy)

After writing to the SFO, the reporter also gave a statement to the police on 15th August 1995, just weeks after leaving his senior role at the MoS

He claimed to have been phoned by a sinister mystery caller two months previously.

The threatening calls alluded to Mr Ward’s forthcoming trial and referenced a motorbike the journalist kept outside his London home.

The journalist said in his statement that police had then contacted him on August 3rd 1995 following the discovery of his burnt-out bike in a nearby street. 

‘I saw that no parts had been stolen, which makes me believe that theft wasn’t the motive,” he wrote, before concluding: “The arson is linked to the comments made to me during the June 25th telephone call.’

Mazher Mahmood AKA the ‘Fake Sheikh’

He also told the SFO, in a letter dated August 9th, 1995: “No parts appeared to have been removed from the bike.

‘The mirrors, spark plugs, carburetor, battery, fuel tank, speedometer, brakes, wheels and tyres could all be identified.’

Mr Ward says the reporter’s finger pointing was a deliberate bid to discredit him in the run up to his trial.

‘We already know that the Mail on Sunday stole documents from my home in my absence which were crucial to my defence,’ he says.

‘They paid witnesses and offered them ‘conviction bonuses’. All that is bad enough – but the paper will of course cynically and spuriously argue public interest. 

‘However there is no conceivable excuse – public interest or otherwise –  for running an allegation against a man under investigation which is completely false, and to do it with great cleverness.

The Irish Times reports on Ward’s imprisonment, March 22 1997
The Independent report on Ward’s imprisonment, September 27 1995

‘This is the beating heart of the Mail on Sunday’s conspiracy against me. It illuminates and educates what their true purpose was.’

The destruction of the reporter’s Kawasaki motorbike was not raised by either the defence or prosecution in Mr Ward’s September 1995 trial. He was found guilty and jailed for 12 months.

Months later, after his release from prison, he received a dossier from the SFO of previously unseen paperwork relating to his prosecution. 

Among the papers was a police report – seen by Byline Investigates – which painted a very different picture of the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the Kawasaki. 

It revealed how the bike’s petrol tank had been removed and thrown into an adjacent car which was then set ablaze. 

The attending officer wrote: ‘The petrol tank on the Kawasaki had been taken off and the persons have then thrown the petrol tank which was probably lit into the back window of the vehicle. The vehicle is completely burnt out.’

Mr Ward explained: ‘In other words, the bike wasn’t the target of this mindless destruction at all. 

‘The reporter went to pains to tell the SFO that no parts had been stolen from the bike, and also told the police that the fuel tank was identifiable – when in fact it was lying in the back of a burnt out car.

‘And he never thought to mention a car in his police statement. Why is that? 

‘The whole episode was reverse-engineered in an effort to discredit me. This was a deliberate setup by a senior reporter working for a national newspaper.’

The SFO appears to have taken the reporter’s alleged kompromat at face value.

Case controller Gordon Dickinson wrote to prosecuting barristers on August 9th 1995.

‘I would now ensure that the police were aware of the connection between the damage to the bike and his role as a witness in this case,’ he wrote. 

Mr Ward said: ‘Instead of investigating, they decided I was the culprit and had me before the judge.’

The Leveson Inquiry

Mr Ward hoped to highlight his case at the second part of Leveson’s inquiry in press ethics.

However it was controversially shelved by then Digital, Culture and Media Secretary Matt Hancock in March 2018.

Mr Ward attempted to challenge the decision in the High Court in 2019 through a Judicial Review.

His Statement of Facts for the legal bid – which was refused – includes references to the ex-MoS reporter’s ‘fabrication’.
 
Referring to himself as ‘the claimant’, Mr Ward writes: ‘On 9 August 1995, [the reporter] fabricated an allegation, made in a signed witness statement prepared for the SFO, that the claimant had set fire to [the reporter’s] motorcycle.
 
‘The accusation was designed to cause the claimant utmost damage, and it did so.’

Byline Investigates covered Mr Ward’s Judicial Review bid.

Associated Newspapers Ltd’s official statement following their settlement with Mr Ward in May 2021
Associated Newspapers Ltd’s official statement following their settlement with Mr Ward in May 2021

The Mail on Sunday’s response to our stories prompted Mr Ward to launch a libel action against the paper, which it settled out of court in May.

Mr Ward added: ‘My case and Tulisa’s case both show that the power newspapers have to set people up and fabricate false allegations against them is very, very dangerous. 

‘This is an insidious power which has been going on for decades, destroying people for the sake of editorial strategy.’

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