When will they learn? The pap who tried to tip off his victims
Emily Dugan talks to photographer Steve Back, who foresaw a Bob Quick-style scandal
Sunday 12 April 2009
Since Assistant Police Commissioner Bob Quick was caught stepping out of his car last week, urgent papers in hand, photographers have faced accusations of irresponsibility. Do these people not have consciences, asked the critics?
But the truth is a more complex. If the photographer who captured the blunder had had his way, Mr Quick would still have a job and the students might still be under observation.
Freelance photographer Steve Back, who also works as a magistrate, decided it would be irresponsible to release his picture of the whole, sensitive document. "My eyes aren't that brilliant and even I saw the content, so I made the decision not to do anything with it," he said. But once Getty Images released its partly obscured photo of the papers worldwide, he felt there was no point in keeping his back.
Far from being proud of the scoop, Mr Back is disappointed. For years, he has petitioned Downing Street to take better care to cover up confidential papers. "On at least half a dozen occasions, I've told the press office that everyone can read everything that ministers carry, because of the quality of lenses. I have gone out of my way to say: 'For God's sake, cover them up.'"
Mr Back has even held back a photo of a senior minister holding sensitive papers. "One day, I photographed Jack Straw carrying some documents which I didn't do anything about. I just didn't do anything with them; I mean, he's the Justice Secretary."
Not all snappers are so civic-minded. Thanks to modern digital technology and a highly competitive media marketplace, the clutched document marked "Secret" has become highly prized pap fodder. The Bob Quick story is not the first of its type, nor will it be the last...
A BBC pitch to make the Prime Minister "more popular than Alan Sugar" was inadvertently revealed when Hazel Blears was photographed carrying a printout of an email. The proposal was to make a reality TV show called 'Junior PM' which would be for budding politicians. Blears's notes suggested Mr Brown was going to discuss the matter with other Cabinet figures.
Housing minister Caroline Flint was caught out as she walked to No 10 clutching papers which revealed the dismal state of the property market. Thanks to an enterprising photographer, the news was out before she had a chance to brief the Cabinet: the housing market was expected to plunge by up to 10 per cent. To make matters worse, the briefing also confessed: "We can't tell how bad it will get."
Last year's European Ryder Cup team captain attempted an audacious lie to get out of his own document crisis, when his handwritten team list was photographed ahead of his official announcement. Mr Faldo claimed it was simply lunch requests for his team mates. "It had sandwich requests for the guys, just making sure who wants the tuna, who wants the beef, who wants the ham," he said. But the tall tale didn't last long. "OK, I've been caught," he admitted just moments later.
Trust George Bush to have the most puerile of document scandals. When the then leader of the free world was photographed writing a note to Condoleezza Rice during the 2005 World Summit, he was not consulting her on the finer points of Russian foreign policy. He was asking for a loo break. "I think I may need a bathroom break," he penned urgently. "Is this possible?"
Gilligan briefing notes
Tony Blair was on his way to a tempestuous PM's Questions when his briefing notes were caught on camera. It was in 2003, when the furore over the "sexed-up" dossier was at its height. Green tags highlighted the key points of concern and the name of journalist Andrew Gilligan – who broke the story – could clearly be seen.
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