| Victoria Beckham
London, June 3: The case against five men accused of a £5 million plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham collapsed yesterday after the court was told the key witness was a convicted liar who had been paid £10,000 by the News of the World.
Abduction charges against the men were dropped after the Crown admitted that the kidnap plan may have been “a put-up job” conceived by Florim Gashi — the main prosecution witness and the Sunday newspaper’s informant.
Judge Simon Smith immediately referred the matter to the attorney-general, expressing concern that payments to witnesses in celebrity cases were having a “detrimental effect” on criminal proceedings.
The collapse of the case is expected to lead to renewed calls for legislation banning media payments to witnesses in criminal trials. Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, said it raised “significant issues relating to the administration of justice”. He said he would be speaking to the newspaper.
The News of the World said it was surprised by the collapse of the case and stood by its story.
A spokesman said: “Since November, we have cooperated fully with police. No information was concealed. Indeed, the police thanked the News of the World for our full cooperation.”
Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court was told that Gashi, 27, a Kosovan parking attendant, took the story to the News of the World, but its reporters did not alert the police until just before publication.
Brian Altman, for the prosecution, told the pre-trial hearing that the decision to drop the case had been explained to Victoria and her husband, David, England’s football captain.
Altman said: “There was no independent objective evidence that a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham was raised by the defendants rather than Gashi himself.
“When you realise his parlous financial state at the time, it seems less of a coincidence and, unhappily, more of a put-up job. If he had suggested this high-profile target to these defendants, no prosecution should or could succeed.”
Altman said Gashi had previous convictions for using and possessing false identity documents. Concerns about Gashi grew after it was discovered he lied about his role in another story he gave to the newspaper, alleging that a traffic warden was dealing in drugs.
Altman said: “This new information prompted the prosecution to review this case with some degree of care, particularly because there was some evidence that Gashi had instigated and incited individuals to commit offences in the Wandsworth investigation.”
“It is therefore in the light of this new material that the prosecution no longer believes that Gashi could be put forward as a witness.
“The prosecution has no confidence that it can rebut the suggestion that Gashi was, or might ave been, instrumental in, at the least, instigating the plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham.”
The News of the World published its story of how it foiled the plot across seven pages in November. It said the gang had a “detailed plan” to ambush Victoria and hold her until her husband paid a £5 million ransom.