Ex-Met police forensics officer describes cash offer to officials as ‘just advertising’
By David Hencke | 4 July 2012
Picture agency boss Matt Sprake denied ever paying bribes despite offering public officials cash for inside information.
Sprake, pictured working as a forensics officer for the Metropolitan Police in the aftermath of the IRA’s 1996 bombing of Canary Wharf in London, told Exaro: “I would never pay a police officer, have never paid a police officer… or anyone in authority.”
His comments came as Exaro today reveals how his photographic and surveillance agency, NewsPics, is enticing police and other public officials to provide information for newspapers in return for cash.
“You have got to be very careful whenever you get information from a police officer” – Matt Sprake
But he told Exaro that he exercised caution with tip-offs: “I would not touch anything that is operational or compromising. We had people contact us on stories like the royal family, for example. My first question was, ‘How do you know that?’
“‘Well, I have heard it in a briefing.’
“‘Sorry, can’t touch it.’”
However, his agency – at the time of publication – openly entices officials to come forward with information in return for cash on its website. It says: “All sorts of people have been paid thousands of pounds by us for giving information that leads to a picture being sold or a story being written, are you a doorman, police worker, civil servant, probation officer, prison officer, nurse? Make some extra money without anyone ever knowing…”
Sprake said that the wording on his agency’s website was “just advertising” aimed at the “general public”.
He said that he would have removed it by now but for the fact that the website was “broken” and could not be edited because the company that created it had gone bust. “We are in the final stages of a company redesigning our website,” he said. “If there was a way of changing it, believe me, I would.”
On the social-media website, Myspace, he puts his income at between £100,000 and £150,000 a year.
Sprake continued: “I used to work for a specialist department at the Met in Scotland Yard looking, basically, at terrorism work. The level I was working at involved very covert stuff.
“I got out after 10 years. You are limited on the number of years you are allowed to do, so I am now doing other work. But I have still got all that training that is very handy to have.”
He says that police officers contact him to “moan” about their conditions.
He also claims that his agency is “monitored by some departments in the Met for where some of our stories have come from.”
“You have got to be very careful whenever you get information from a police officer. They are not going to be paid because it is obviously illegal. The story will only be put forward if they have obtained that information through something that would be general information.
“If they ring up and say I have seen this bit of paper and this story is going on, well, we do not touch that because that would be highly illegal. So we are very careful.”
He said that most of the agency’s press work came directly from newspapers rather than information given by sources.
Sprake said that he was “completely compliant” with Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into newspaper practices and “adhered” to the code of conduct of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which is a claim made by his agency on its website in relation to its surveillance work.
However, a PCC spokesman said that the code did not apply to picture agencies or freelance photographers. “This highlights the same issue that Lord Justice Leveson has already raised: whether agency photographers or the paparazzi, as well as editors, should be covered by the code.”
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard has so far arrested and questioned 39 people over allegations that journalists paid ‘bribes’ to police and other public officials.
Update 4 July 2012: Within hours of this story breaking, NewsPics pulled its entire website and put in place a holding page.