Panorama exposing ‘Fake Sheikh’ involved in Tulisa drug sting pulled by BBC at last minute

The programme set to unmask journalist Mazher Mahmood was cancelled just over an hour before broadcast due to a new legal issue

The BBC’s plans to reveal the identity of the so-called “Fake Sheikh” involved in the Tulisa Contostavlos drugs trial went awry last night when legal issues saw the Panorama documentary pulled just before it was due to air. 


Although the Corporation had won an earlier appeal allowing them to reveal the identity of Mazher Mahmood, the self-styled ‘King of the Sting’, his lawyers intervened shortly before broadcast. 

The BBC said in a statement: “Shortly before transmission Mr Mahmood’s lawyers submitted new information relating to one of the cases in the programme which, as a responsible broadcaster, the BBC needs to evaluate.

“Once this has been done we will broadcast Fake Sheikh: Exposed, including recent footage of Mr Mahmood, as planned.”

Mahmood has provided scoops for many tabloid and broadsheet papers over the last 30 years by taking on undercover identities, his most high profile being that of an oil-rich sheikh. 

He was recently involved in the drugs trial of Tulisa Constostavlos which saw The X Factor judge charged with helping to supply Class A drugs to a man who turned out to be Mahmood – allegations which she denied and which were never proven.

Mahmood had told Constostavlos he was a film mogul, promising a role for her opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.

Mahmood’s involvement led to the collapse of the trial after the judge questioned his credibility, saying there “were strong grounds to believe” he’d lied.

The tabloid journalist had fought to keep his identity secret by appealing for an injunction, but this was overruled and the BBC was given permission to broadcast images and footage of the reporter they had obtained for Panorama.


Last night, BBC executives decided they needed more time to look at the new information submitted by Mahmood’s lawyers, and cancelled the show minutes before transmission. A documentary called The Girl Who Vanished, looking at the case of missing Blackpool girl Charlene Downes, was shown instead.