Hi John, Great piece. I have gladly signed your petition. I have never stolen a picture or anything else from the home or workplace of a person I have interviewed, and the thought would never have crossed my mind.  I join you in totally resenting the implications of Dacre and co. and sincerely hope they are required to substantiate these myths under oath. Can you imagine what Ken Donlan or Charlie Wilson would have said, and done, if there was even a suggestion anyone had been guilty of theft. Summary justice would have been swift and ruthless. Dacre and co should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Our generations were a bunch of dedicated professionals; occasional piss artists, and sometimes scallywags I will acknowledge. But thieving….never! Peter Reece, Manchester

Hi John, Just read your piece re Dacre et al. Well said, mate. My memory tallies exactly with yours. I think Dacre should perhaps have spent less time in the pub swallowing the yarns and more time on the doorstep. Terry Fletcher, Skipton


OLD HACKS ANSWER SMEARS

John Dale writes: On this website - see my article ‘Not a Thief’ - I challenged the distinguished trio of Paul Dacre, Roy Greenslade and Bob Satchwell to substantiate their claim that in pre-PCC days we used to steal photos from the bereaved, virtually as a matter of course. At time of writing only Roy Greenslade has responded and says: 'Well, I concede that I've no personal knowledge of picture theft though I recall hearing about it many times in the past.' He asks others to come forward with first-hand evidence. 

Here are comments from older journalists both to his request in Mediaguardian, and to a similar Press Gazette article. To support the claim that the PCC somehow stamped it out, such theft would have had to have been prevalent, not just an occasional rogue act. From the following, the balance favours it being more Fleet Street myth than fact. Perhaps Paul Dacre and Bob Satchwell will break their silence and prove otherwise.

Of course it is irrelevant to any debate about the PCC's Code of Practice. Photo stealing is illegal, just as phone hacking is illegal. The Code doesn’t need to condemn illegal acts. But it is relevant to my argument that the current generation of journalists are selling-out their predecessors in the hope of making the PCC's performance look better than it really is. This is a divisive strategy.

Mediaguardian comments first. 

SHUTTLEBOY: Throughout the 70s I did more "death knocks" than I care to remember. Some alone, some with colleagues and never - repeat NEVER - did I encounter a single instance of any reporter stealing family photos. It was simply not necessary. If you got through the door then you could always get a picture without subterfuge. If Mr Dacre and co know of any instances let them publish the details - I suspect we are in for a long wait.

BLUELEMMY: My old news editor said the practice definitely existed when he used to freelance for the NotW – and he told us this way before the current scandals made it popular to suggest it was all worse in the old days! The only time it happened in front of him, it was actually an unscrupulous photographer who nabbed the photo though, while being made a tea by the widow.

SEATINTHEGODS: So many saintly reporters....never seen a photo being nicked from the mantlepiece or sideboard....or been part of the script to get the bereaved family out of the room for a few moments. But then perhaps they never worked for The Mail, Sun, N.o.W., Try coming back to the office, and saying: "Sorry boss, got the story but no photos..." I used to squirm with embarrassment as snappers would grab a treasured framed photo while the bereaved family were making a cup of tea and slip it into their camera bag - the logic being, it's the photo or P45.

In fairness to my ever changing rota of companions, the deal was that once they had a photo secreted, they would then ask if they could ask if they could have a family photo to take with them to be copied, if they agreed (which they invariably did), then the borrowed' one would be discretely put back in place. "Belt and braces dear boy," as one multi-award winning photographer explained

Naturally there were always promises that the photos would be returned - judging by the subsequent phone calls I received they seldom were.

OLDREPORTER: Before hanging up his "old raincoat" and occupying an editor's chair John Dale was a first class reporter. I worked with him and against him. And I've never heard of him pulling any "strokes." Much of what was alleged by Mr Dacre and has often been alluded to about the behaviour of journalists on the road is legend - not fact. There was also the hoary old story about photographers on their way to cover a disaster such as a plane crash, train crash or building collapse stopping at the first toyshop to buy a teddy or cuddly toy, then singeing it with their lighter and - when they thought no-one was looking - tossing it into the wreckage to add some pathos to their picture. Well I've never seen those pictures or known any photographer do anything like that. 

It was simply one of those black humour stories told in Fleet Street watering hole after Fleet Street watering hole and gathering "truth" as it passed from tavern to tavern and then newsroom to newsroom. And not to the much-lauded Code Of Conduct. 

Back in the Sixties every reporter joining the Daily Mirror staff in Manchester started his or her first week on nights. In the bottom right-hand corner of the news editor's desk was The Book Of Memos. Under the eagle-eye of night news editor Maurice Wigglesworth and his deputy John Flint the new reporter had to read, absorb and be questioned on all of those memos which were, in effect, a code of conduct. When Messrs Wigglesworth and Flint were satisfied the reporter had taken it in that reporter then signed another page and his or her signature was counter-signed and dated. Those guidelines were strictly enforced by the news editor and his staff and woe betide anyone who transgressed. Allegations about "nicking" pictures are just those - allegations. I have no experience of it and I did scoop up a few family albums in my time ALWAYS with the co-operation and permission of relatives. Sometimes we had them to ourselves and other times they were given on the strict understanding that they were shared with the other papers and we always complied with that. Back then we were fully aware of Intrusion and knew how to deal with it. The problem today is that so many reporters are confined to their desks and only allowed out now and again and, of course, the Old Boys and Girls have all been put out to grass and aren't there to guide them. There were times when I "nicked" pictures which meant I was first there or managed to be first through the door to speak to the family and got them exclusive. They simply weren't stolen.

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PRESS GAZETTE

DAVIDBEEVERS: Yes, Paul Dacre, Roy Greenslade et al are right. I was a journalist in the 70s and it was commonplace for reporters - not me, I hasten to add - to nick a family photo from bereaved relatives' homes when initial requests for one had been denied. One of my colleagues boasted he was the best at it.


DAVID WORSFOLD: As David Beevers says - it was everyone but me. It is an urban myth with no proper sources to back up the claim. Dacre should be ashamed of himself.


NORMANGILLER: Hand on heart I can truthfully say I never came across it in long Fleet Street service (two London evening papers, Daily Herald, Daily Express). Most of my time was at the 'toy store' sports end of the newspaper, but my pals on the news beat never to my knowledge sank to those depths. From my earliest local newspaper days I was taught to be suitably sympathetic and polite when making the 'death knock,' and to make a photograph request only if the mood was right. I would contradict Paul Dacre and say that it WAS uncommon.


COLIN ADAMSON: Worked with the best and worst of them during a long Fleet Street career on two London evenings and The Sunday Express. Witnessed vandalised red phone boxes to prevent the opposition filing, even red top hacks on Benbecula killing a sheep to prove they were ahead of the chase to find Hercules the  bear, but never came across a single case of a photograph being stolen from a bereaved family.


HOTNEWS: I am afraid you are all living in cloud cuckoo land if you think this 'theft' didn't go on. Yes of course journos were/are sympathetic in the cases of bereavements etc, but when I worked in Fleet Street we were always told to ask for ALL photographs with excuses like 'oh I don't know which one the picture editor will want'.  That way you stopped the oppo getting the pics OR they had to come to you to buy them. So selling someone's else's photos that do not belong to you.... Isn't that theft?  Generally I loved the life in Fleet Street but it was actually after I had actually been ordered out on one of these photo pick up jobs at 2am in the morning and told to try and wake up some parents whose baby had been killed in order to get their pics before anyone else that I decided to get out.


ANNE: I have never heard of it happening on local newspapers. It was the reporter's job to be genuinely interested and sympathetic to the bereaved and to ask nicely for a photo which was usually handed over quite freely. Is Paul Dacre suggesting that reporters went round with stolen framed photos stuck up their jumpers? It would have been rather unlikely for the families to have had unframed snapshots on their mantelpieces. An urban myth, I suspect.

NOEL YOUNG: Yes, reporters had to ask for photos. Sometimes they had to be persuasive.  But sometimes the family wanted recognition, A colleague ,worried about approaching a neighbour for a photo of an RAF son killed in an air crash,  decided not to do so, Then the dad knocked at his door - and handed  in a photograph of his dead son for  the paper.  

UNREGISTERED: 43 years in journalism, 27 years on national newspapers, and I never did this, or heard of any reporter/snapper who did it. What does Dacre know - did he ever knock a door in his illustrious career? 


johnkdale@msn.com

Frank, Fearless, Frequently Flummoxed

twitter: @JohnDale8