The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR MATTHEW GORDON FRANCIS SPRAKE (sworn).

  • Your full name, please, Mr Sprake?

  • It's Matthew Gordon Francis Sprake.

  • And you're the director of a company called Newspics Limited; is that right?

  • You've kindly provided us with a witness statement pursuant to a statutory notice. The statement, from the version I have, hasn't been signed by you, nor is it dated. Can you confirm, please, when you provided it?

  • It was provided on 12 July.

  • Is that statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • Can you tell us about yourself, please? You are a professionally qualified photographer. You obtained a Btech national diploma in that discipline in 1989 and have been a published photographer since 1984. You worked in the Metropolitan Police as a photographer for ten years; is that right?

  • Between 1990 and 2000. Then you moved to another business and then set up your own business in the year 2003?

  • Yes. The business was set up as a fully operational business in 2003. It was formed in 2001, when the company that I worked for straight after the police went out of business and I worked for them as a subcontractor. So the company was legally formed in 2001 but fully operational in 2003.

  • Main areas of business, please, that Newspics Limited is involved in?

  • It's PR photographer, news and features photography and studio photography.

  • Apart from yourself -- you're the managing director -- how many persons does it employ?

  • It employs two other full-time members of staff and we have a team of freelance photographers who work for us on a shift basis as and when required.

  • Approximately how many freelance photographers?

  • All over the country? In the region of 35.

  • How do you check their credentials?

  • Most of them come from a background of local newspaper work. I don't employ many photographers that work for other national newspapers because some of the sensitivity of the work that we do needs to be kept within a small team of people that won't disseminate that information to other papers for obvious reasons. I like photographers to be professionally qualified. Unfortunately, some of the best photographers out there don't have professional qualifications -- they just happen to be very good photographers -- but their work is very much checked before they're taken on by us.

  • Do you and your photographers abide by a code of practice?

  • We do, yes, the PCC Editors' Code of Practice.

  • We may come back to that issue. The first substantive question were you asked -- this is our page 02065, under question 3, Mr Sprake -- relates to the surveillance services which Newspics offers. Can you explain, please, the type of surveillance work you carry out for media organisations, in particular the printed press?

  • Sure. Most of the time a story will come into a newspaper and they will contact us to verify the truthfulness of that story. We're sent out with some basic information about what the story might be. It could be any number of reasons, and we're sent to prove or disprove that story, basically.

  • Are there any other circumstances in which you carry out surveillance work?

  • If a story has been written about somebody, we could be sent out to create what is called a snatch photograph which is a photograph taken of somebody in a public place without them knowing. We could be sent out to see if somebody is doing somebody interesting. If a story is planned to be written about somebody, we could be sent to see if somebody is doing something interesting around that story, and like I said before, just to show what people are doing, really.

  • All your photographs are taken, I take it, without the knowledge of the subject of the photograph?

  • What sort of lens do you use?

  • We use -- primarily I normally use a 70 to 200, which isn't a particularly long lens. The longest lens I have is a 300 ml lens, which again, isn't a particularly long lens.

  • What's the range of a 300 ml lens?

  • A full length picture you can get nice and clear about 500 yards.

  • So although not a long lens, by most people's terminology it is capturing a photograph from a distance, isn't it?

  • You say you take photographs of people on public property.

  • Do you take photographs of people when they might have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

  • Several sets of pictures that we've taken have not been used because they've been taken on private property. So I would say no. We know that we have to let somebody come out of their driveway, for example, onto a pavement, before we can publish a picture of them. So no, I wouldn't say that.

  • You mentioned the length of your lens, but do you have any control over the length of the lenses used by the 30, 35-odd photographers who you employ?

  • No. No, I don't. I know that most of the photographers that I have would have a maximum of 400 ml lens on the work that we do, no larger than that. If you're getting into lenses longer length than that, it's quite specialist equipment and I don't know of any of our photographers who have more than a 400 ml lens.

  • What's the range of a 400 ml lens?

  • Slightly longer than a 300. That sounds a flippant answer, but it's not that much longer. It would be a sports photographer's lens. You could fill, from one end of a football ground, the goal, full frame, at the other end of a football pitch.

  • You mention that sometimes photographs have been rejected because they were taken on private property. Presumably rejected by the ultimate client; is that right?

  • That presupposes that the photograph will have been taken of someone who was on private property at the material time. Is that not the case?

  • Possibly or certainly?

  • We have had a set of pictures of people taken on private property which have been turned down by the paper. So yes, some pictures have been taken on -- it's a difficult answer to say somebody on private property. If -- we would be on a public area, but somebody might be walking down their drive, and if they walk down their drive and walked behind a hedge, those pictures would be deemed to be on private property so wouldn't be published.

  • Are you dependent on the discretion of the client or do you form your own discretion in these matters?

  • No, I think we form our own discretion.

  • Do you take photographs of people in restaurants or other public places where they might have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

  • I'm trying to think back over the years. I don't think so, no.

  • Do you take photographs of people when they're in their private motor vehicles?

  • You've provided us with details of all surveillance work undertaken for media organisations over a two-year period, July 2010 to June 2012. Can we just have a look at this.

  • Could we take this off, please.

  • We have prepared a redacted version which didn't have the names of the subjects. I don't know what's happened to that.

  • Do we have a version that's been redacted?

  • Right, we'll do without it.

  • We're just not going to look at it then.

    The clients -- primarily the People newspaper; is that right? But of course, before it disappeared, the News of the World?

  • Do you tend to deal with one person at the People or is it a range of people on the picture desk?

  • It would always be the picture desk, a variety of people.

  • You've also worked, on a couple of occasions, for the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail. Can you remember who you worked for on those occasions?

  • I don't know accurately who it would have been that booked us for the actual job, but I do know people that work on the Mail on Sunday.

  • Now, the range of topics, ignoring the identity of the subject, you can see on the right-hand column under the rubric "Objective". Do you see that?

  • These are all matters which really bear on the individual's private life, it might be argued. Would you agree with that?

  • Do you believe there are any ethical issues which arise in connection with that?

  • Whether the story is true or false would be an ethical issue I would raise, in that somebody has phoned the paper with information which, most of the time, it has to be said, ends up being not accurate at all, and we prove beyond doubt that that information is not accurate a lot of the time, and a lot of effort is put into making sure whether a story is true or false.

  • Establishing truth and falsity I understand to be ethical issues, but there might be a wider ethical issue as to whether the subject matter of the story and/or the methods you deploy amount to intrusions into individual privacy. Do you take those issues into account?

  • I do take those issues into account. If the story's not true, then nobody would ever know that we were there working on a story anyway, and if the story is proved to be true, then that's a matter for the newspaper to decide whether to publish it or not.

  • If a story is false, we don't, as it were, move to the next issue. But a story can be true, yet there is an unwarranted intrusion of privacy in obtaining it in the first place. Do you analyse that issue in any way?

  • Well, again, most of the photographs that we would take would be in a public area. If, for example, two people -- if there was a suggestion that two people were having an affair, the photographs that we would obtain would be of them out on the street in a completely public environment. So it wouldn't be intruding into their privacy because they're there in a public arena.

  • So you confine yourself then to photographs of people in streets, do you?

  • Yes. Yes, I would say so. I mean, if two people were in -- having an affair and went into a hotel, I can't think of a time when I've followed them into a hotel and followed them to their room, for example, if that's the sort of angle that you were looking at. I can't recall a time when we've done that.

  • One example we have, 13 January 2011 -- the method used is "body-worn camera" and the objective is "spending their bonuses on a big booze up".

  • You don't actually name the subject in terms of personalising it. It's just described, I can reveal it therefore, as "city bankers". So it could be any range of people falling into that category, but if you're using a body-worn camera, you're likely to be in some sort of bar watching people drinking champagne. Isn't that the --

  • It would be in a bar with some sort of covert camera, yes.

  • Do you think that's ethical?

  • I think it's an answer for the newspaper, really, rather than us. We're tasked to provide the evidence. Somebody has obviously phoned the paper and said, "These bankers are coming here tonight to spend heavily." We prove or disprove it. And on that particular job -- I remember that job -- it was completely false. It didn't happen.

  • I dare say very often these leads end nowhere and the story is false, but it sounds from your evidence, Mr Sprake, that really you don't take the ethical judgment so much as you delegate it to the ultimate client to decide what to do with your pictures. Is that a fair characterisation of your thought process?

  • No, there are occasions when I would decide that it wouldn't be appropriate to take a picture.

  • In very clear cases?

  • It's a moral situation for a human being at the end of the day. It's whether you decide morally whether that picture should be taken or not. At the end of the day, if you have a client who has been given a story and you are asked to provide the evidence as to whether that story's true or false, you need to do what you can to prove the innocence or guiltiness of whatever that story is, and most of the time the effort is put in to prove that the story is completely false.

  • Your intention is not to prove truth or demonstrate falsity; it's just to see where the evidence leads you?

  • Gather evidence basically, yes.

  • It sounds as if the main moral standard which is guiding you is that which is whether the story is true or false, rather than whether there's any earlier question of the means used to obtain the photograph in the first place. Is that fair?

  • That would be the ultimate outcome, yes, to prove truth or -- whether it's true or false, yes.

  • There's another case where you used a body-worn camera. This time we do have an individual. It's 23 September 2010. We're not, of course, going to name the individual, but the objective was: "She's a drug taking prostitute."

  • I'm going to ask you to be careful not to intrude into the privacy of the individual --

  • -- but can you remember anything about how you took those pictures?

  • It was a meeting with an individual in a hotel room. A story had already been written about this individual and video footage had been obtained of her in the circumstances which I've outlined -- not by us, but another newspaper -- and we had attempted to interview this person and to gather evidence about what she said or did at an interview, there was a video cameras placed in the hotel room. As it transpired, that individual decided to do a full sitdown interview and was paid for her story and that equipment wasn't needed. It was a full proper features job it turned into in the end, where that person admitted to her mistakes, admitted to her remorsefulness about what she had done and the story went in that direction rather than what it could have gone into.

  • Yes, so where it could have gone is you using a covert video camera in a hotel room; that is right, isn't it?

  • That clearly would be unethical under the code, wouldn't it?

  • Again, it would be gathering evidence. It's video evidence as opposed to using a dictaphone. Video pictures work better, obviously, in a newspaper than an audio file, so it would be pictures to go with the audio.

  • Of course it's gathering evidence because this is all photographic evidence of one shape or form, but it's gathering evidence by a method which is unethical and to an objective -- to answer a question whether someone is a drug-taking prostitute -- which has little or no public interest in it. Would you agree with that?

  • Okay. The vehicle surveillance examples, of which there are a lot. That means you're in a car, someone's along the street and you're trying to take your snatch photograph; that's what it boils down to?

  • How much do you tend to get paid for these photographs?

  • We get paid a standard shift fee, which is a daily wage, basically.

  • You don't get paid by the result; you get paid by the time spent?

  • It doesn't matter what the result is for us. We get paid for our time. So it's no bonus to us whether the story is true or false or whether we get a set of pictures or we don't. We're paid to work on a story.

  • Do you sometimes take pictures on spec, in this sense: that The People send you out to watch a particular person and see what you can get, but you happen to go out, obtain a photograph of a celebrity maybe from a distance and then try and sell the photograph around various news outlets?

  • Very rarely. We're quite unique in the way that we work. We don't do a great deal of that. If we do that sort of work, it's normally with the consent of the celebrity that we're working with, and then we take those pictures around ourselves. But most of our work is commissioned by a newspaper.

  • There are occasions, you explain, that celebrities come to you with photographs and want to sell them, in the sense that they want you to help place them; is that correct?

  • They ask us to take photographs of them, basically, to sell for them to raise their profile.

  • How often does that happen?

  • Again, not very often. It's not an area of work which we're hugely into. There are other agencies who do that far better than we do. They tend to be friends of mine that work with us in that way. We don't set the agency up to be like that at all.

  • Do you have any sense, Mr Sprake, about how widespread is the practice of celebrities selling information to photographers about themselves, or rather, allowing themselves to be taken by photographers with a view to commercial exploitation?

  • Most of the pictures that are taken of celebrities are done that way. I mean, set up shoots -- they're commonplace within the industry. They happen daily.

  • Can you give us a sense of the sums of money involved for the photographs?

  • Depends on the celebrity. The largest one I've had is £17,000.

  • As your statement explains.

  • One core participant has asked me to ask you which celebrities have come to you, but I'm not sure that's a question which is entirely appropriate since, rightly or wrongly, that might be said to intrude into their privacy. Can I ask you, please, about what appeared on your website at a particular time?

  • Before you turn to the website, I think it's right to say that had this document been available in its redacted form, the overwhelming number of these entries are for The People. There are about half a dozen for the Mail or Mail on Sunday. In each case, they are snatch photographs; in other words, to go back to your definition, obtaining a picture of a subject to whom the story relates without them knowing, to support a story that's been written.

  • The second question I wanted to ask was to direct your attention to the entries on -- one moment. (Pause)

    26 and 27 July 2010. You've said you don't use long lenses. What's the method that's put on your document as describing what you were doing on those days?

  • Is this the methods that's titled "Long lens surveillance"?

  • Do you want me to give you the actual what we were doing and how and why we did it?

  • I'm interested, given your evidence that you didn't use long lenses.

  • Yeah, this wasn't -- I can actually -- I can't tell you now at this instant, but we have software in the office which will tell me how long the actual lens was to do that job and it wasn't a particularly long lens. It would have been no longer than a 400 ml. The story was -- I think if I'm right in saying that that was the last sitting at the House of Commons and the suggestion was that the MPs were sitting out on the Thames drinking heavily and it was photographs of them out on the bank, taken from Westminster Bridge, drinking on the terrace.

  • Yes, well, I only draw it to your attention because you gave evidence that you didn't use long lenses and yet you've chosen those words to describe the method you were there using.

  • Yes. It wouldn't have been longer than a 400 ml.

  • I think we've already established 400 ml would probably enable you to take someone from 600, 700 yards away, because 300 ml gives you 500 Yard, doesn't it?

  • So a really long lens might be over a kilometre, would it?

  • They make lenses, Mr Jay, that can shoot people from a mile away. They're not commercially available, but you can get a telescope lens that you can put on a block of flats. It's not something that -- I don't think anyone in the industry would use it, but technically you could -- a lens that's unlimited length.

  • On your website there was an advertisement, I think would be a fair way of describing it --

  • Mr Jay, just for those who have been interested, the redacted document is now actually available and visible to those who are watching and doubtless can then be available in the normal course.

  • Thank you, yes.

  • On your website, it said:

    "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 of anyone who is on reality TV? You can earn yourself good cash now by calling."

    And also this:

    "All sorts of people have made 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 or nurse? Make some extra money without anyone ever knowing."

  • Can we be clear, please, when were those advertisements on your website?

  • That was placed on the website when it was first built in 2000, 2001. I can't be sure of the exact date when that website went up. The website was redesigned in 2008 and the wording was left on there. It was something that was tucked away on the site. We're not a "sell your story" website. The website is a marketing tool, primarily aimed at PR companies and publications that book us for work, but companies look to sell stories. People can come to an agency and we would sell a story.

    We haven't sold a story to any of those people. People wouldn't be able to search that and find a "sell your story" website through our site. They'd go to other people before they came to us.

  • If someone within one of these categories -- doorman, police worker, civil servant, et cetera -- or perhaps someone else altogether happened to look at your website, they could see, could they not, that that would be a nice way of earning money on the side, I suppose it might be described as?

  • Yeah, they could do. They could ring us up and tell us what the story is. That's needless to say that it wouldn't get published and it wouldn't go any further. The way the system would work is I would take that call myself. If somebody in the office answered the call, it would be passed on to me. I would listen to what was said, decide then how that information was obtained. If it was obtained properly, then that information would then be passed on to a reporter, who would look at that set of -- a reporter at a newspaper, not a reporter with their own company; we don't employ any reporters within our company -- passed on to a reporter in a newspaper who would look at the story again, decide himself the validity of the story and the legality of it, pass it on to his legal team before it went anywhere near a newspaper -- so there would be lots of checks done before anything like that happened but it's a hypothetical situation.

  • You say it's never happened?

  • You said if someone phoned in with such a story --

  • -- it would be passed on to you, so there must be a system in place.

  • There is a system in place. Anything like that that's phoned in -- if somebody phones in with a set of pictures, it would always be passed on to me. We get phone calls all the time -- people ringing up and asking for footballers' addresses, for people's addresses that we've been looking at, and it's not something that the office deal with; it's something that's dealt with by me because of the serious nature of some of the things that are asked for.

  • It sounds as if you do get loads of enquiries from people seeking to make money on the side, which you would then field?

  • No, it's photographers mainly that try to sell us their pictures. We get photographers who phone up with ideas for stories. They come straight to me. But as far as members of the public are concerned, no, we don't get anything like that.

  • You get a member of the public with a camera who phones you, saying, "I can do this and that. I can take a photograph of X without their knowing. Can you help me with this? Can we sell it together?" I suppose that's what it boils down to?

  • But they don't come to us for that, because there are other companies which are far better set up for doing that than we are.

  • Are you saying that that sort of phone call has never taken place?

  • Somebody ringing us up and offering us a set of pictures? Yeah, we've been offered sets of pictures. I was offered once a set of pictures from an A list celebrity's camera that was stolen and I passed it straight on to the police. It was obvious that the pictures that they were offering us were taken from a stolen camera. And that was an American A list celebrity.

  • I'm sure you can understand why this particular offer which Mr Jay has just read out to you excited the attention of the Inquiry.

  • But I would be interested to know why you ever thought it was appropriate to put on your website that you were inviting nurses and prison officers and civil servants to provide you with stories, doubtless in breach of their duty, and make money out of it.

  • Again it's a hypothetical situation, but if a nurse, for example, was to phone up, would it not -- explaining that her -- patients in her care were being treated badly and that they were left in horrible conditions at her hospital, would that not be a story that would be in the public interest and be interesting? It wouldn't be my decision whether that story went forward to be published or whether that nurse got paid. It would be a decision for a paper and a legal team at a newspaper to decide.

  • But Mr Sprake, you chose to put this offer on your website.

  • Are you saying that you were only interested in public interest stories? And if so, why didn't you put that?

  • Or is this just total aberration?

  • It was a mistake to put the wording on there.

  • Well, the wording we see -- and I've read it out once already -- is:

    "Do you know of a story, a scandal ..."

    I suppose a "scandal" could just about cover a public interest situation:

    "... something that made you interested?"

    That wouldn't necessarily:

    "Chances are that a newspaper will pay. Do you know where a prominent person is living or what they get up to? Is a celebrity having an affair?"

    So most of this is nothing to do with the public interest.

  • It's 12 years ago. It was a very different environment than it is now, and when that website was first created, probably it would be acceptable to have spoken in those terms. Now obviously it's totally inappropriate.

  • Well, probably if the code was there, it wasn't acceptable then, whether or not it was got away with.

  • The categories we see: a doorman, a police worker, a civil servant, a probation officer. These are all people who have access to individuals. It might be a doorman of a hotel.

  • Yeah. Doormen do tip photographers off. They don't tip us off because we're not that sort of company --

  • You are, aren't you, because you've got this on your website?

  • Police workers -- there are all sorts of possibilities there but it might be a celebrity under suspicion by the police, it might be a celebrity who's just suffered a burglary and a victim of crime. Civil servants -- well --

  • That would be totally inappropriate to take any action against that, because that person would only know that because of the job that he did.

  • Is it a coincidence that the website was removed on 4 July of this year, which was very shortly after an article appeared in somewhere called ExaroNews relating to your business?

  • No, I removed the website on purpose when that story came out because of the inappropriateness of the wording on the website and how out of date that website was. The website was -- "broken" is the kind of easy term to use, in 2010, because the company who made it were unable any longer to operate the database editor for the website. So from that date onwards, we were not able to edit anything on that website. The website -- we were trying to get it fixed, but we've had to get it recommissioned and it's almost finished being redesigned. The work's been going on for the last 14 months on that website, to get it redesigned and put back up.

    The reason we didn't take it off is because primarily that website is advertising PR photographer services, which it is a major part of our business. Since taking the website off, we've obviously lost all of the work we've put into the Google ad campaigns on that site. So it was a commercially suicidal decision to take it off.

  • Were you sent by a newspaper -- I can name it, the People -- to track the McCanns when they were on holiday in Canada in 2008?

  • I was sent to try to find the McCanns on holiday in Canada, yes.

  • And obviously with one of your -- we can call them long lens cameras --

  • Medium length with quite a long range. Is that --

  • I wouldn't have taken a long lens on a foreign job, no.

  • One of your 300 millimetre lenses?

  • No it would have been a 70 to 200, which it is a standard lens in anyone's Kit.

  • Who did you go with? Did you go with a journalist from the People?

  • This was Mr Jones, was it?

  • What was your brief?

  • The McCanns were going on holiday for the first time without Madeleine and to find them.

  • And then do what?

  • Did that cause you any concern whatsoever?

  • I have to be careful what I say because of where we are, but I recall a conversation as to where the information came from, that they were in Canada, and it came from a source close to the family. So at the time I felt it was appropriate, bearing in mind, with the McCanns, there was a feeling that publicity -- keeping Madeleine in the news was helpful to the cause of finding Madeleine.

  • But if they wanted to be photographed with that objective, they simply had to pose for a photograph. Could you not agree?

  • No, because it doesn't work that way. We get tips from celebrities who tell us that they want to be photographed, but they want to make it look like it's not been set up for the newspaper. That is also something that happens regularly, so it doesn't look like they're colluding with a newspaper. In fact, I got criticised by somebody on a website after the pictures were published of the McCanns saying that I'd worked with the McCanns to set that set of pictures up, because it looked so set up that I was accused of setting it up with the McCanns.

  • The photographs you refer to were taken at Vancouver airport, weren't they?

  • Were they set up pictures or not?

  • No, they certainly weren't set up by me. There were things about those pictures that did look set up. The way Gerry McCann was carrying his daughter, for example, was a very striking image. I wouldn't know whether something had be set up with the newspaper or with an agent or how it had been done, but the set of pictures that we got at the airport weren't set up by me, no.

  • I think you were also involved, with the same journalist working at the People, with a number of stories which I think we can call fake bomb stories. So someone goes into Sandhurst, for example, where a prince may or may not be at the material time. They have a fake bomb on them -- of course, it's not real Semtex, it's marzipan or something, which arguably looks like Semtex -- and then a whole story is created around this on the basis that security is lax because look how easy it is to get into Sandhurst or whatever.

  • Have you been involved in a number of those stories?

  • What is the public interest in those stories?

  • Well, you could argue, like you say, that it's highlighting security breaches. I would have personal opinions on that.

  • That marzipan would get through a bomb detector; Semtex would not.

  • So it's a pointless and stupid story, isn't it?

  • Do you take photographs as part and parcel of the story?

  • On, I suppose, private or semi-private premises, then? Is that right?

  • Well, that's a very tough definition because it would have to be a public area for us to be able to get into. We wouldn't be going anywhere that was private, no, so it's not really a private environment. It's an open area. At Sandhurst, for example, the idea was was that there was a speech podium which a member of the Royal Family would go and stand at to make a speech, and you could openly go up to the podium and the supposition was that you could put something behind the podium.

  • So to give colour to this pointless story, you take a photograph of the podium; is that what you're saying?

  • What about surveillance that you undertook in 2007 of the then head of the anti-terrorist squad? Can you help us with that? That was of an alleged affair he was having, wasn't it?

  • Yes. Yeah, that was -- I can name him, can I?

  • It's in the public domain, so -- well, let's see if we can handle this evidence without naming him, but I think everybody knows who he is. It was alleged that he was having an affair with a married women; is that it?

  • Yes. There was a story that came into the paper that this prominent police person in charge of special operations at the time at New Scotland Yard was having an affair with somebody who worked at the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At that time, that police officer's department was being investigated by the IPCC for a very serious incident which took place in London, and that, as far as I understood it, was the public interest angle on the story.

    So I was sent to photograph the lady involved in the story to ascertain whether she was still married to her husband, who was a serving police officer himself. So I went to the home address and took a photograph of them leaving their home address together.

    We then -- I was then told to go and follow her from work that evening, which I did. I followed her to a pub in Liverpool Street called The Griffin -- I understand it's called The Griffin -- where she did indeed meet with Andy Hayman. They had drinks.

  • This is the police officer we were going to keep anonymous, doing the best we can.

  • It doesn't matter, because we've worked out who he was. So did you take photographs in the pub, then?

  • No. We watched them discretely in the pub. A journalist joined me in the pub to watch them to see what they got up to, basically. They had drinks. There was no real intimacy, nothing that could prove an affair. They could well have been meeting for work purposes. It was one of those meetings.

    So they left separately. That was the end of that day.

    The next day, same thing again. Didn't do the home address this time. Went to her work, followed this lady to another pub near Liverpool Street station, where, again, Andy Hayman turned up 15 minutes after her, they went in the pub and had drinks together. The pub at that point was slowly filled with reporters from the paper to watch what was going on in the pub.

  • The couple left. I took photographs of them as they left the pub and off they went on their separate ways.

    That was the end of the job. There was nothing there that really proved that they were having an intimate affair. I think it was months later a TV programme revealed the affair, named the lady, named him. That made the pictures then relevant again. We asked the paper, you know: "We've got it these pictures. Are you going to run them?" I was told: "No, not interested, so you can sell them", which would be common practice. After the paper's finished with them, we can sell the photographs.

    I started to ring papers. I phoned the first paper, which was the Mail on Sunday, just because it would be a story that they would be interested in, and I was made an offer and it was a good offer.

  • How much did the Mail on Sunday offer you for these photographs?

  • £10,000, straight away.

  • So I phoned the paper back and I said, "Are you really sure that you want these to go? I've just been made a really good offer. Do you not want to reconsider?" Which they did, and they did a share with the Mail on Sunday. The People published the pictures and so did the Mail on Sunday, and they ran on that Sunday.

    I found out afterwards that other people had been working on the story as well. There was another team of photographers that had been working on that story too, so it wasn't an exclusive. I think -- MailOnline tend to gather up everything that's out there and later on in the day more pictures of them appeared of them together, which was a surprise to me.

  • Of the people you employ, are any of them former or serving police officers?

  • Former or serving police officers? No. No. I've got -- I used to have one former police photographer -- I wasn't ever a police officer; I was a civilian member of staff, and there was one photographer who I did employ that I used to work with, who doesn't work with me any longer.

  • The job you were telling us about, the surveillance of the senior police officer, who tipped you off?

  • It was a story that came to us from the newspaper.

  • From the newspaper?

  • Finally, Mr Sprake, have there ever been circumstances in which you've had to sack any of your contractors?

  • Absolutely, yeah. I've sacked two good photographers because they've not kept to my standards, which I strongly believe in. The two situations were -- I had a guy one night was out working -- this is years ago -- and he photographed a girl that was in "Big Brother", followed her down the road, backed her into a doorway and carried on photographing her, even though she was showing obvious distress. I got the pictures in the morning and it wasn't something that I like to see. This girl was crying, obviously upset, very distressed, and I sacked him. It's not the sort of pictures I want to see coming into our agency.

    The other situation was the photographer that I used to work with who was one of the best photographers I've ever had working for me. He's a very skilled worker, I respected him a lot, he was a good friend of mine and we were asked to do a job by a celebrity. It was going to be a meeting between the celebrity, his celebrity girlfriend and the parents, the first time they'd met. It would have been an interesting story at the time for a tabloid newspaper.

    I was asked -- it was all set up to do. We'd told our paper that we were going to do that. It was going to be a great set of pictures. It was going to be an exclusive. It basically proved that the relationship was real. I was told in the afternoon by one of the celebrities involved in it: "Please don't do it. My parents don't want to be in the paper. It's a private matter. It's going to be a private meeting. Don't do it." I called the photographer off. He decided that he was not going to be called off, he wanted to do it himself.

    On the Monday, pictures appeared in the Daily Mirror and it could have only come from one person. So I phoned him up and sacked him. I can't have people doing that. That was a blatant breach of privacy. I got asked not to do it and we carried on and did it, and I got rid of a good guy because of that.

    But a lot of effort is put into the work that we do, you know, to prove whether stories are true or false. Newspapers get phoned all the time. People ring up and they say, "This is happening, that's happening and the other thing's happening". 80 per cent of the time it's absolute rubbish.

    If I can just bring -- there's one example that I'd really like to share with you.

  • Yes, please do.

  • One afternoon, Manchester United played Sunderland. Alex Ferguson made a comment at the end of the game in his post-match interview and said, "Alan Wiley is not fit to referee this game. He's tired, he's unfit. It's almost like he's been out to a party."

    A set of pictures gets sent into the People newspaper of Adam Wiley dressed as Buzz Lightyear. Great set of pictures. I think they phoned his wife and his wife almost verified it was true. At least she admitted that he'd been to a fancy dress party.

    Those pictures were laid out on the front and back pages of the paper because it was a fantastic story. Somebody at the paper said, "I don't like this. Something's not right with these pictures. Something doesn't add up here." So I was sent to Adam Wiley's home town and a colleague of mine was sent up there, and we spent five days proving whether these pictures were actually taken the night before, speaking to fancy dress costume hire stops, speaking to parties venues. We found the party venue where the party was, and the guy told me: "Yeah, there was a party the night before the game, but if somebody had turned up as Buzz Lightyear, I'd have remembered it because it was a normal party."

    So I rang the guy, who was trying to sell these pictures for a lot of money to the paper, and said to him: "Look, we're up here. Give us a hand here. We're trying to make this work for you. What is the story with this?" And he said to me: "Do you know what? I thought papers published stuff. They just published it. I didn't think it had to be true. I thought papers just made it up. I had no idea that you would come here and spend all this time."

    He knew that we were there for five days, working on this story. He had no idea that we would work at proving that that story was absolute rubbish and I got him admitting on tape that those pictures were taken in the summer football break. There was no games on either side of that party, and that was nearly an innocent man going on the front page of one of Britain's biggest-selling Sunday newspapers.

    So that's the effort that we go into to prove whether a story is true or false, and sometimes things have to be done to gather evidence, but most of the time they're in the favour of the people who supposedly -- their friends or people they know are ringing up to dob them in about a story.

  • Sometimes things have to be done to gather evidence. Could you help us, please, with what those things are?

  • You have to go beyond the call of duty and be very professional with what you're doing and you have to absolutely accurate. Like I said before, there's no gain to me whether a story doesn't work or does work. I'm doing my job to prove --

  • The touchstone is truth or falsity. I understand where you're coming from. But if sometimes things have to be done, what you're telling us is sometimes the rules have to be bent or ignored, don't they, in order to get to your higher goal of establishing truth or falsity?

  • No, it's not. If it means using a body-worn camera -- there are laws regarding surveillance. RIPA, for example, which is the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, okay.

  • We've heard of that one.

  • Right. Well, there's nothing that we would do that would break the law under RIPA.

  • If I went to interview you and I sat and I had a camera in my tie and I video'd everything that we said, the only thing that's different between that and a dictaphone is that I have pictures of you. A reporter in the normal course of his duties would be expected to record an audio of the conversation, so all I'm adding is video footage to that.

    If I leave a camera in that room after we've finished our chat and that video camera is transmitting images to my van, to me, to wherever -- I haven't even got that kit, but if that happens, that is blatantly breaking the law under RIPA. Well, we don't to that. We're only gathering the evidence.

    If somebody is selling which is illegal -- say, somebody is selling identity cards and that's happening in a house. Audio footage is not going to pick that up. A video bag will. It proves that that is happening. You can't run a story without that -- all he's going to say is: "Show me the evidence. Show me the evidence that I actually sold you that passport. Show me the evidence I've actually sold you that gun." Because we've worked on stories like that, where hitmen have been offering to kill people for £5,000 and we've given our evidence, evidence of a gun being shown to a reporter inside a house. That man has been arrested at 6 in the morning by SO19 firearms officers and he went to prison.

    We've followed police officers who have been grooming children on the Internet. We've met them. We've followed them back to their police stations. I followed a guy one night and he got off at Seven Sisters tube station and flashed a warrant card to the guy on the underground system. I had no idea that he was a police officer, but he flashed a warrant card and then walked back to his police station.

    These are the people that we're dealing with and that is surely public interest.

  • You don't see any of those people on the list we were looking at earlier. Those were all celebrities, weren't they?

  • They're earlier jobs. I mean, I can give you all those examples. I mean, the guy that looks after the scrapyard that holds the Lockerbie aircraft, he was selling bits of the aircraft off to souvenir hunters. If I get a camera out and photograph him, he's not going to sell me that aeroplane part. But we bought parts of the Lockerbie plane and he wouldn't have done that if I'd have held a camera in his face.

    I've been beaten up in the street by having a camera out because members of the public think that we are some sort of criminal because we're photographers. It is that bad. Security men think they can throw us in bushes and up against walls and beat us up just for having a camera out. I feel far safer in the back of my van with a hidden camera. I really, really do. And at the end of the day, all we're trying to do is prove the truth, because somebody is phoning in a false story.

  • Could I ask a slightly different question? You've said that you subscribe to the principles set out in the Editors' Code.

  • But to whom are you accountable for the exercise of that judgment? You're not in the PCC.

  • No. I belong to the Chartered Institute of Journalists, and as a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, I have to abide by the PCC Editors' Code of Practice. I believe also that we should abide by it.

  • Is there a regulatory mechanism within that institute?

  • The Institute of Journalists? Yeah, their code of practice. If somebody feels that I'm not working in an ethical manner, they can report me to the institute.

  • I've never been reported so I don't know. Presumably they --

  • Do you know what the system is?

  • No, but I presume -- I mean, I belong to what I believe is the most professional journalistic institute that's available.

  • The first -- if you refer to the PCC code of apparatus, the first point that they make in the PCC code of practice is: the press must take dare not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. That's number one on the PCC code of practice.

  • Yes, okay. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Sprake.

  • 10 o'clock Monday.

  • Right. Thank you very much.

  • (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock on Monday, 23 July 2012)