Leveson Inquiry: The unedifying world of Matt Sprake

Matt Sprake in action with the Met

Matt Sprake, the head of Newspics photo agency, whose website was exposed by me on the Exaro News website (http:// www.exaronews.com) and with Oliver Wright on the Independent, put on a bravura show at the Leveson inquiry this week.

He insisted that  the wording on his website offering thousands of pounds to police staff, prison officers, doormen and nurses, for years  for  stuff on celebrity’s private lives had been a “mistake” and had only not been taken down until the exposure by Exaro because his website was ” broken.”

During the rest of the questioning by Robert Jay, the Leveson counsel, and Lord Leveson himself, he tried to portray himself as a ” White knight” fervently checking that any of these informers had not obtained salacious gossip by breaking the law  and making sure that our great tabloids from The People to the News of the World were not so foolish to indict innocent people on their front pages. Unauthorised  snatch photography with morals, so to speak.

He even provided a detailed example where an innocent referee who had engaged the wrath of Alex Ferguson was saved by Sprake’s due diligence from an exposure at a late night party that never took place.

But he has probably dished himself with Leveson over his explanation of the 330 surveillance jobs he has done, mainly for The People and the News of the World and his amoral view  that whatever the scandal was – his sole interest was whether it was true or not and ” morality and ethics” was something left to the editors. I don’t do ethics that’s for someone else, to put it simply .All this has been more eloquently covered today by Roy Greenslade in his Guardian blog – see http://bit.ly/MpYH81 .

What emerged in detail was his treatment of two stories for The People – the chasing up the McCanns on their first private holiday in Canada without Madeline. Evidently it was fine for The People to spend thousands of pounds sending a team of snatch photographers and a reporter  to Canada because in Mr Sprake’s word he was a ” celebrity” and wanted “to keep Madeline’s name in the public mind.” Now  I would think Gerry McCann is the last person to want to  be a celebrity, more a diligent father trying to get to the bottom of his daughter’s tragic disappearance – and if he wanted the publicity, he could have organised a photocall in Heathrow before he went away. Obviously he didn’t and  that wasn’t good enough for Sprate or The People. They were happy enough to invade their privacy on a well-earned holiday for loadsa dosh.

Similarly the ” ethical ” treatment of Andy Hayman, the Met Police chief who is alleged to have had an affair with someone from the Independent Police Complaints Commsision was considered fair game just because there was an inquiry. Did the People or anyone else have a shred of evidence that the inquiry was compromised or that Hayman was after illicit information? No. But it was worth £10,000 to Sprake for the pics. Hayman did resign but  there seem to far more serious allegations about him over the first hacking inquiry years later.

I am backing Roy Greenslade on this one. Mr Embley needs to be summoned by Leveson for further questioning. The need  for this is made more compelling now Roy Greenslade has revealed that the People’s picture editor, Mark Moylan, forgot to tell Leveson  that he did ANY business with Matt Sprake – now revealed as enormous by Sprake himself. See his new post at http://bit.ly/PqViXw.

Meanwhile just 15 or so minutes after I had  finished covering the Leveson inquiry myself I had a phone call on my mobile.

An anonymous friend of Mr ” Ethical , never done anything wrong, guvnor” Sprake warned me to lay off any further inquiries. They named  some  person  they think is supplying me with information that  led to Mr Sprake’s appearance before Leveson. Sorry mate, the steer came from someone else.

They signed off with a cordial affectionate greeting: ” You fucking geek “. Nice circles you move in , ex police snapper Matt Sprake.

Hacking scandal:Trevor,You don’t have to bribe people to get scoops

The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh: Defender of the Press? Pic courtesy : digitalhen

Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun’s most vociferous associate editor, has launched an extraordinary attack on the police operations which led to the arrest of a number of very senior Sun journalists. Using language I normally associate with my former employer, The Guardian, he condemns the police for disproportionate action and speaks of a police state and witch hunts against News International. (See http://bit.ly/we4MKo )

 My heart bleeds for him in one sense. Yes, you are right, it doesn’t take dawn raids and 20 police officers to arrest one unfortunate Sun hack. As far as I know they are not the equivalent of armed drugs gang. I am sure you wrote lots of articles in the Sun condemning the tactics of the Scotland Yard’s  former  assistant commissioner, John Yates, when he used the same approach against Lord Levy and Blair’s Downing Street staff in the ” Cash for Honours ” investigation. (this needed investigating but some of the tactics were disproportionate.)

Where I do quarrel with him is his implication that somehow allegations of bribing police officers ( which I gather is the reason for all this) is an essential tool of journalism to expose scandals to save Britain from turning into a corrupt cesspit.

It isn’t. If you think so it sends out all the wrong messages and puts journalism in the dock – and encourages a culture where money is the main motive and moral outrage irrelevant.

Without meaning to be pompous, I have just managed to get by in a long journalist career without paying anyone ( other than professional journalists who are making a living from passing on information) and still produced the odd exclusive.

I may appear to be naive at times but nobody needed paying to expose the ” cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s nor that Peter Mandelson had taken an undeclared £373,000 home loan from a  fellow minister.

Nor did any money change hands in the latest scandal of Ed Lester, the student loans company chief, and his tax affairs – just one  morally outraged source, a few beers, and a well targeted freedom of information request.

Of course, not all leaks are based on moral outrage. Base motives and deadly sins could be involved. By removing money from the equation – it gets rid of one motive and also stops people ” over egging” the information to make more cash.

My main disagreement with you is there has been something wrong in the practice of journalism and it does need cleaning up. I haven’t a clue whether these journalists  are guilty or innocent – or in doing their jobs have been corrupted by a culture that ended up being corrupt itself.

But I think you are being a little too disingenuous to suggest the fabric of investigative journalism is about to collapse because of these actions. There are many other practices  – not least the current financial collapse of newspapers – that are much more deadly.