NewsPics to be wound up following Exaro expose for offering ‘bribes’ to public officials
By David Hencke | 17 March 2014
“Despite the demands for payment, the company has failed to pay the amount due under the default costs certificates” – Exaro’s petition to the High Court
Ex-police photographer Matt Sprake’s picture agency was today ordered by the High Court to be wound up.
The end for NewsPics came in a five-minute hearing after the picture agency was exposed two years ago by Exaro for offering cash to public officials for information.
Exaro filed a petition to the High Court in January for NewsPics to be wound up because it had not paid more than £24,000 in legal costs for a failed claim of a copyright breach.
Registrar Sally-Anne Barber, sitting in the companies court of the High Court at the Rolls Building, this afternoon granted the petition, compulsorily winding-up NewsPics.
The picture agency made an explicit offer on its website to give cash to public officials. Sprake told Exaro that he had never paid any public officials for inside information.
The offer was made despite a high-profile police investigation, under ‘Operation Elveden’, into the alleged bribery of public officials for information for stories.
Exaro worked on the expose with The Independent, which also published a version of the story. Hours after the story broke, the website that carried the offer was removed.
Lord Justice Leveson summoned Sprake to give evidence to his inquiry into newspaper practices.
Leveson, in his report, condemned Sprake’s ethics, calling his testimony “alarming”. Leveson wrote: “Mr Sprake may prefer to call himself a photographer, but, in substance, he was a private investigator equipped with a camera.”
Meanwhile, Sprake complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the Exaro investigation as published by The Independent.
NewsPics had advertised services under the label, “surveillance photography”, claiming: “You can utilise the very same skills that are used by the security services and the police.”
Exaro illustrated its expose with two pictures of Sprake that were in the public domain at the time.
According to Sprake, he took the pictures while employed by the Metropolitan Police Service.
One picture showed Sprake inside 10 Downing Street, posing at the cabinet table and sitting in the prime minister’s chair. In the other picture, he was at the scene of the IRA’s 1996 bombing in Canary Wharf, London.
NewsPics sued Exaro and our reporter over the use of the two pictures of Sprake, ultimately claiming £65,000, plus £15,000 interest, for alleged breach of copyright.
Exaro made an application for summary judgement, and dismissal of the claim, on the grounds of “fair dealing”.
A deputy district judge at Milton Keynes county court, Stuart Quin, agreed, dismissing the NewsPics claim last year. “The claims by the claimant are bound to fail,” he ruled, saying that Exaro’s use of the pictures plainly amounted to “fair dealing” as part of its expose.
He also ordered NewsPics to pay Exaro’s costs, which currently stand at £24,094.37.
Sprake then said that NewsPics had become “technically insolvent” and had “ceased trading”.
NewsPics applied to dissolve itself and be struck off the company register.
Exaro intervened, suspending the action, while it petitioned for a winding-up order to ensure an orderly distribution of assets owned by NewsPics.
In its petition, Exaro said of NewsPics: “Despite the demands for payment, the company has failed to pay the amount due under the default costs certificates.”
As a result of today’s order, an official receiver will be appointed to sell the assets of NewsPics, in order to pay debts to Exaro and any other creditors.