Peter Walsh, Crime correspondent
Friday, November 29, 2013
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Herbie Hide has been sentenced to 22 months after he admitted conspiracy to supply cocaine.
Hide, 42, of Long Lane, Bawburgh, had previously pleaded not guilty to conspiring to supply class A drugs between January 29 and February 2 this year.
But Hide, who was arrested after being filmed by undercover reporters from The Sun, dramatically changed his plea as his trial was due to start last month.
He appeared at Cambridge Crown Court today to be sentenced along with co-defendant Ben Sharman, 22, of Howe Lane, Poringland, who had previously admitted conspiracy to supply class A drugs, offering to supply class A drugs and offering to supply a class B drug.
Hide, who appeared in a blue shirt, was jailed by Judge Mark Lucraft who he said played “a significant” role in the conspiracy despite the “sting” element of the newspaper operation.
Sharman, who also admitted a burglary at the UEA and asked for seven other matters to be taken into consideration, was jailed for a total of 20 months.
Last month Adam Budworth, representing Hide, said his client pleaded on a basis that he was “entrapped into committing this conspiracy by the trickery of Sun newspapers and its employees”.
Budworth, mitigating for Hide, said reporter Mazher Mahmood and his assistant had pursued his client “relentlessly” despite his attempts to remove himself from the encounter.
A friend of Hide described him in a statement read to court as a “pubescent boy in a grown man’s body”.
“I hesitate to say this, but it is a case of Jekyll and Hyde - far from his public persona, he is a shy man and a vulnerable man and was ripe for the picking by experienced and professional men like Mr Mahmood,” Mr Budworth said.
“I’m not here to criticise the paper for its conduct but this is not a case where the Sun has in any way unearthed a massive conspiracy.
“This was not a case of crime fighting or exposing a criminal, this was a case of selling newspapers.
“If anybody instigated this offence, it was Mr Mahmood and his assistant.”
Hide’s adoptive father, Alan Hide, told the court his son had learning difficulties.
He said: “Once he becomes your friend, he’s your friend for life.”
Prosecutor Chris Youell described how Mr Mahmood, dubbed the Fake Sheikh because of his technique of acting as a wealthy Arab, originally targeted Hide as part of an investigation into fight fixing.
“Mr Mahmood was effectively a customer being sold drugs for money,” he said.
“It was an isolated incident which would not have happened had Mr Mahmood not enticed Mr Hide into doing something illegal.”
He added: “The whole thing comes about because of the interest shown by journalists in Mr Hide, in particular because of his local and to some extent national celebrity because of his success in the sporting arena.
“At the time he was planning a comeback and was contacted by reporters from the Sun seeking to expose the supposed fact he was prepared to fix fights for money.”
Hide met Mr Mahmood, who had adopted his sheikh persona, in a room at the Sprowston Manor Hotel in January.
Sound recorders and video cameras had been set up in the room, the court heard.
Mr Youell said: “During the conversation, Mr Mahmood began to talk about the lack of good quality cocaine in the Norwich area.
“Mr Hide volunteered relatively enthusiastically that cocaine was available and offered to get some from ‘my man’.”
Hide arranged for co-defendant Ben Sharman to obtain four grams of cocaine worth £400 which he then handed over to the reporter.
When tested, the drugs were found to be “absolute rubbish” containing 0.1498 grams of pure cocaine, the court heard.
Hide, who was born in Owerri, Nigeria, and moved to England as a boy, was educated at Cawston College.
He held the World Boxing Organisation version of the heavyweight title twice.
A spokesperson for The Sun said: “The judge’s decision to give Herbie Hide a 22 month custodial sentence for conspiring to supply cocaine is a successful conclusion to a legitimate investigation into the supply of drugs.
“No one compelled Mr Hide to supply drugs, it was of his own free will, and he pleaded guilty to the offence. There can be no doubt that our investigation was in the public interest.
“The Sun on Sunday observed the PCC code throughout the investigation and we are determined to expose drug peddlers, whether they be celebrities or street dealers.”