Ex-Met officer to be quizzed on cash offer to public officials for celebrity tip-offs
By David Hencke | 13 July 2012
“We do not want to be seen as part of the problem”
– Neil Turner, vice-chairman, British Press Photographers’ Association
Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into newspaper practices has summoned an ex-police photographer exposed by Exaro for offering thousands of pounds to public officials for information.
Matt Sprake, who runs an agency that supplies pictures to national newspapers, is due to appear at the Leveson inquiry next Wednesday. He is due to give evidence to Leveson on the same day as Max Mosely, the former president of Formula One’s governing body.
The inquiry will question the former forensics and surveillance officer for Scotland Yard about why his agency, NewsPics, put the offer on its website. He is pictured working for the Metropolitan Police in the aftermath of the IRA’s 1996 bombing of Canary Wharf in London.
His photographic and surveillance agency, based in Shenfield, Essex, made the offer despite a police investigation into alleged payments made by journalists to public officials, and Leveson’s wide-ranging inquiry into newspaper practices.
Visitors to the NewsPics website were told: “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…”
In a section headed “news exclusives”, the agency tempted public officials to provide details of “a scandal” or, “where a prominent person is living or what they get up to,” or, “a celebrity having an affair.”
“You can earn yourself good cash now by calling… 24 hours a day and remember, nobody ever needs to know it was you that told us!”
Within hours of Exaro’s disclosures last week, the website containing the appeal was taken down and replaced with a holding page. But Exaro had already published the key page from the website, and an extract is shown to the right.
Lawyers for the Leveson inquiry read the articles written by Exaro on the case and asked to be pointed to the relevant website page before it was pulled.
The former Met officer defended himself by saying that he had never paid a police officer or “anyone in authority” for information.
Sprake, joint owner of NewsPics, said that he had wanted to remove the wording discovered by Exaro, but was unable to do so because the website was “broken”.
This week saw two more arrests in ‘Operation Elveden’, Scotland Yard’s investigation into allegations that journalists paid ‘bribes’ to police and other public officials.
Two journalists, one from the Sunday Mirror and another from the Daily Star Sunday, were arrested on Wednesday.
They were held on suspicion of conspiracy to cause misconduct in a public office. They were bailed to a date in October, pending further inquiries, police said. It brings the total number of arrests of journalists and public officials to 41.
Scotland Yard refused to comment on the case of Sprake, whose 10-year career in the Met included anti-terrorism duties. A spokesman said that Sprake’s past was “not relevant”.
Sprake even once had access in his police job to the cabinet room in 10 Downing Street in the 1990’s. A picture published by Exaro from his Facebook page showed him posing at the cabinet table, in the prime minister’s chair.
The Leveson inquiry has heard evidence from the British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA), which mainly represents staff and freelance photographers working for national newspapers.
Neil Turner, BPPA vice-chairman, blamed “untrained” people carrying “expensive cameras” for damaging press photographers’ reputation.
He told the inquiry: “We do not want to be seen as part of the problem, because we do not feel that we are part of the problem. And, if any of our members are part of the problem, then we would like to be able to sort that out.”