Leveson Inquiry: Do you want to comment on Newspics, Mr Embley ?

Yet another development today in the fast moving Leveson inquiry into press standards. Lord Leveson – following the two blogs by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian and my exposure of Newspics website at http://www.exaronews.com – has invited the former editor of The People, Lloyd Embley, now editor in chief of  the Daily and Sunday Mirror, to comment on Matt Sprake’s evidence.

In a statement to the inquiry he said:” The Inquiry only learnt of the existence of Matthew Sprake very recently, but I am conscious that his evidence last week concerned, in large part, the work which he had been employed to carry out for The People.  Further, it raised issues relating to the responsibilities for the ethical decisions in connection with its commissioning.

Although I recognise that it is now too late to serve a notice under Section 21 of the Act on the editor, Mr Lloyd Embley (who gave evidence during the course of Module 1), should he wish to provide his account of that relationship, dealing with what Mr Sprake has said, I will, of course, consider it..”

It came on the same day the inquiry was told separately by the Scotland Yard chief, Sue Akers, that her bribery investigations were now covering allegations involving the Trinity Mirror group, owner of The People, over payments to prison officers involving Trinity Mirror as well as News International.There is no suggestion whatsoever that Matt Sprake is involved in this investigation.

Trinity Mirror were given the opportunity to comment on the Exaro News revelations about the inducements offered to public officials on Matt Sprake’s Newspics website but declined to take it up. Perhaps they will take more kindly to Lord Leveson’s request.

Full link to Leveson is :http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Transcript-of-Morning-Hearing-23-July-20121.txt

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.

Ex Met Police snapper to face Leveson Inquiry over cash offers to public officials

Lord Justice Leveson ; Pic courtesy Leveson Inquiry website

Update: There is a report today (wednesday) on the exaronews website (http://www.exaronews.com ) of today’s hearing where Matt Sprake  defends himself.

 Matt Sprake, the former Met Police forensic police photographer, has been summoned by Lord Leveson to appear  before his inquiry.

This follows the exposure by me on Exaro News website (http://www.exaronews.com)  and with Oliver Wright in the Independent last week.( http://ind.pn/M48suc ) which  revealed his http://newspics.co.uk  website was offering to pay thousands of pounds to police, prison and probation officers for tips on celebs having affairs. There is a new article on the site now.

Just to remind readers – as he has taken it down now – the wording included  the phrases:

Officials are 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…”

The agency website has endorsements from the picture desk of The People, the red-top Sunday tabloid, OK magazine, the celebrity title, and the Press Association, the national news agency.

In a section headed “news exclusives”, the agency tempts 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!”

Mr Sprake’s forthcoming appearance was announced on the Leveson inquiry website this afternoon. Among those appearing on the same day – next Wednesday – will be Max Mosley.

Lawyers for the Levenson Inquiry had asked to see the articles on Exaro News and the Independent after they appeared. They have also examined his website.

So next Wednesday Mr Sprake will be able to explain in public exactly what is going on. He has also put a complaint into the Press Complaints Commission against the Independent  about  last week’s article. I look forward with interest to the next event.

Exposed: The Ex Met Police snapper’s website offering “cash for celeb scoops” to public officials

Matt Sprake: Trying Out the PM’s chair in the Cabinet Room in the 1990s while on the Met Police pay roll. Pic courtesy his Facebook page

Given the Leveson Inquiry is in full swing  can  you imagine this appearing on  a website supplying the national media – from the People to the Press Association?

” Do you know of a story, a scandal, something that made you interested, chances are that a newspaper will pay for that information.  Do you know where a prominent person is living or what they get up to, is a celebrity having an affair that you know of, do you know anyone who’s on reality TV?  You can earn yourself good cash now by calling 01277 (deleted) 24 hours a day and remember, nobody ever needs to know it was you that told us!

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…

Never go direct to a newspaper, come to us, it’s what we do, we are better positioned to get you much more cash. ”

The full story  on this is available  at http://www,exaronews.com   and on the Independent at http://ind.pn/M48suc. Since the disclosure the website has been rapidly redesigned and the page taken down but the website page is captured on the exaronews.com website.

Part of his agency’s website is devoted to its “surveillance photography”, offering a menu of services, including “covert foot follows”, “covert vehicle follows” and ”remote technical surveillance”.

“You can utilise the very same skills that are used by the security services and the police,” clients are promised.

“Our surveillance team has worked for and been trained by various police and government surveillance agencies within the UK. If you need it photographed without being seen, we are your experts.”

So what is the  explanation of the managing director  of  http://newspics.co.uk ,  ( one Matt Sprake, whose company is owned by his wife, Marion, described in her Companies House return as a banker.

According to him  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 his website is “broken” and cannot be edited because the company that created it went 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.” That seems to have  happened remarkably quickly after  the story was published.

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 also claimed his staff adhered to the Press Complaints commission code and his site promised to do surveillance work which would be covered by the Code.

The PCC were not so impressed – a spokesperson pointing out the code covered editors of papers not agency photographers.

I tried to contact Trinity Mirror publisher of The People- whose editor has already given evidence to Leveson . Their pages are all over his website including the page offering cash to public officials. But answer came there none.

One cannot  wonder why the reputation of the media is at such a low with such behaviour. If Sprake is telling the truth, it seems to me the height of folly and hubris  in these troubled times to put this on a website. If he is not this is exposing something else that is not particularly savoury and very worrying for ethical standards in the media and the people who are supplying him.