by Peter Burden, Julia Dillon
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In June 1992, in one of his earlier deceptions at the News of the World, young Asian investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood and road-hardened snapper Steve Grayson went off to France -- for a bit of fun, for sure -- but also in pursuit of a little story that they thought would bring a smirk to a few British Sunday breakfast tables. It would appear with one of the paper's absurd "rubber stamp" labels: "EUROSEX -- SPECIAL INQUIRY."
They were following up on an advertisement placed by an English chef, Ben Stronge, and his wife, Roxanne, for "sexy, fun mini-breaks" -- which meant, apparently, gourmet food and wife-swapping weekends -- in their house in the village of Matringhem, in the Pas de Calais.
In order to prevent finding themselves in awkward wife-swap complications with other guests, Mahmood managed to find out who else had booked in. He then phoned them and told them their bookings had to be cancelled. The only guests would be Mahmood (posing as a surgeon from London) and a girlfriend, and Grayson, going openly as a photographer, and his wife, Jeanette, whom he had discreetly neglected to tell what was supposed to be going on.
Booked in as separate couples who didn't know each other, Grayson with his wife arranged to arrive first. A taxi drove them from Calais through the flat northern French countryside and delivered them to a small chateau on the edge of the village. The chateau looked deserted, an no one appeared to greet them. After a while, a man ambled up the road towards them, and Grayson asked if he knew where he would find the Englishman who lived in the chateau.
"Ah!" the walked exclaimed knowingly. "Ze wife-swapping!" And he told them they were at the wrong place, though luckily (as the taxi had gone), only a short walk from their real destination.
Grayson found he almost had a mutiny on his hands when he explained to Jeanette what they were going to do, and that she would have to pretend to swap with Mazher, leaving their host and his girlfriend to each other.
Once they were in the right "chateau" -- in fact a fairly undistinguished detached bourgeois village house -- the Graysons were greeted eagerly by their English hosts, who plied them with canapes and champagne.
After they'd been shown up to a large, glamorous bedroom to change, they came back down to be "introduced" to the Asian surgeon and his girlfriend, who'd just arrived. A long and lavish dinner followed at which the six of them ate, culminating in the chef disappearing briefly, only to reappear on the sweeping staircase in a silk posing pouch and being a gyrating dance intended to create the right mood for the orgy that he proposed would follow. The intrepid News of the World men quickly swapped with each other's partners to avoid compromising themselves with the chef or his girlfriend.
This proved harder than expected when the chef, abandoning his silken jockstrap, sidled up to Jeanette and started to put his hand up her skirt. She managed to rebuff him tactfully, suggesting she wasn't "ready."
Thinking on their feet in the resourceful tradition of Screws newshounds, they managed to side-step a direct encounter with their hosts and pretended they fancied each other's partners most, with Steve making inventive excuses for taking as many shots as he could of the naked chef and his fishnet-clad wife. After a series of tricky manoeuvres, Grayson ended up with his wife, who by that stage was very unhappy and anxious to leave.
The following morning Mazher faked a couple of phone calls, pretending he had to get straight back to London to operate on a dying patient. Steve and Jeanette hitched a lift from him, to the great disappointment of their host, for whom the whole week-end had been a disaster.
The hacks were happy, though. They got back to England with enough copy for a story and the shots to back it up. As was the paper's practice then (since largely abandoned to avoid people taking out injunctions), Mazher rang the targets to "front them up" (telling them what was going to go into the paper) and to get a reaction from them.
Ben, the chef, cried when Mazher told him his little "sexy mini-break" was being featured in the News of the World. Then he rang the editor, Patsy Chapman, to tell her that he was divorced, and that if the story were published, he would be barred from ever seeing his children again. If that happened, he would kill himself.
He pleaded with her, but hard-nosed Patsy told him if she listened to every sob-story about why she shouldn't run a story, nothing would ever get printed.
Within a fortnight the man had hanged himself in his French house.
The photographer, Steve Grayson, was horrified, and felt directly responsible for what had happened -- his big, revealing, semi-naked shot of Roxanne had been a major part of the story.
Mazher Mahmood, on the other hand, told Steve that as far as he was concerned, the man was a fool to have been so indiscreet and he'd got what was coming to him.