Leveson Inquiry: News agency owner denies making money out of asking police and public officials for information on celebrities

Matt Sprake admitted that an advert had been on his website for years until it was revealed by the investigative website Exaro and The Independent.

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The Independent Online

The owner of a news agency which advertised on its website for public officials to sell stories about celebrities today denied that he had made money from the scheme.

Matt Sprake, a former surveillance photographer for Scotland Yard, admitted that the advert had been on his website for years until it was revealed by the investigative website Exaro and The Independent earlier this month.

However he told the Leveson Inquiry that no public officials had taken him up on the offer and he would have removed it if it had not been for technical problems with his website. It has since been taken down.

Originally the advertisement said: “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…”

Giving evidence yesterday Mr Sprake said: “It was a mistake to put the wording on there. (When we put it up) 12 years ago it was a very different environment than it is now. It was probably acceptable to speak in those terms (then).”

Asked if any of the category of people quoted on his website had contacted him with stories he said: “no”

Mr Sprake confirmed in the course of his job he had used hidden cameras to try and secretly record bankers celebrating their bonuses and a celebrity who had been accused of being a drug taking prostitute.

Under the PCC code of conduct, which Mr Sprake told Lord Leveson he followed, the press must not seek to obtain material acquired by using hidden cameras unless it is in the public interest.

Mr Sprake provided the inquiry with a list of nearly 350 “surveillance” jobs he had done between July 2010 and June 2012 on behalf of newspapers and magazines.

Descriptions of jobs included: love rat, possible affair story, has split from her fella, back on the booze and out jogging with his dad.

Robert Jay challenged him on whether he was concerned with ethical issues surrounding such photography.

Mr Sprake said he was concerned about whether stories were true or not before adding: “nobody ever knows we were there if the story is false.”