Fake sheikh "ordered" surveillance on Tom Watson

Emails suggest that Mazher Mahmood commissioned surveillance of the MP.

Photograph: Getty Images

The News of the World journalist known as the “Fake Sheikh”, Mazher Mahmood, employed a private detective to follow Tom Watson, according to the MP.

Watson, as part of a parliamentary committee, recently received a package of emails from News International's internal investigating group. These appear to show that Mahmood and two former News of the World executives commissioned surveillance on the MP in the hope of finding him having an affair.

Mahmood now works for the Sunday Times, where he was employed after the closure of the News of the World last year. The two other executives implicated were assistant editor Ian Edmondson and news editor James Mellor. Mellor is also employed by the Sunday Times, as deputy news editor.

The attempt began in September 2009 at the Labour party conference. Mahmood claimed in an email to Mellor, copied to Edmondson, that he had received a tip that married Watson was having an affair with a female politician. The allegations were unsubstantiated.

A private detective known as "Silent Shadow", the former police officer Derek Webb, was hired to stalk Watson through the conference. A substantiated story would have destroyed Watson's reputation and credibility.

Watson is a high profile critic of the News of the World and a key player in the parliamentary  investigation of the hacking scandal. In the summer of 2009, he had been investigating phone hacking at the News of the World. He had discovered that James Murdoch authorised a secret payment to a hacking victim, Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association.

Webb admitted following certain celebrities and politicians last year, but it had not been known who told him to do so.

Watson received an apology from Murdoch about this surveillance, and News International said the action was “inappropriate”, but the men are still employed by News International. Rhodri Davies QC pointed out at the Leveson inquiry that no other members of the select committee for culture, media and sport were followed, as the action was unrelated to Watson's position on the committee.

Watson is giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry today.