#MediaToo investigation: the new dark arts
Six years on from Matt Hancock’s cancellation of Part II of the Leveson Inquiry into Press misbehaviour, and after Prince Harry’s landmark legal win revealed the extent of historic phone hacking and illegal private investigations in Mirror Group Newspapers under Piers Morgan’s editorship, Byline Times is looking at modern Fleet Street practices and asking: Whatever happened to the Last Chance Saloon?
It’s like a relic of the Cold War – a remote surveillance camera artfully disguised among flowerbed greenery to spy on the unwitting.
Yet, this hidden eye isn’t from the 1950s and wasn’t deployed by some apparatus of the state. It was secreted by Britain’s most notorious paparazzo on private property to observe the movements of an ailing 87-year-old grandmother and her son.
Its purpose had nothing to do with the public interest. It was there solely to try and make easy unethical cash from the tabloid media.
In the first part of a new investigation, Byline Times is publishing exclusive images and video of the extraordinary surveillance tactics of photographer George Bamby, a stalwart of the tabloid game for more than 20 years.
They show 52-year-old Mr Bamby, of Paignton, Devon, larger than life wielding a telephoto lens, within the gated grounds of the home of Pat Schofield – mother of the troubled television star Phillip.
They also show the moment the former presenter discovers a remote camera belonging to Bamby, encased in a white plastic egg, camouflaged with tufts of grass, hidden among shrubs.
Its purpose, according to two sources, was to secretly monitor Pat Schofield’s movements to and from the hospital with her famous son – and allow Bamby to snatch long lens images to sell to the media.
The incident happened on 30 June 2023, while Mrs Schofield was receiving medical attention during a period of family crisis.
Her son was caring for her while himself at the centre of a media storm, having resigned from ITV’s This Morning over an affair a month earlier following a 35-year presenting career. Pat’s other son, Timothy, was also beginning a 12-year sentence for child sex crimes after a highly publicised criminal trial.
A source with knowledge of the matter said: “It was a really difficult moment for the family. Pat was understandably distraught. It’s not as if pictures of Philip are hard to find, so there was no public interest. There was no good reason to even turn up at Pat’s home, less still to spy.
“Pat was so alarmed by the paparazzi presence that she didn’t want to leave the house, which made getting her to hospital or clinics very difficult. It had a huge impact.”
Another source said: “Philip was very upset when he found the secret camera. He confronted Bamby and took pictures of his own with his phone for evidence. Then Bamby lifted his camera and fired off a load more shots of Philip. It would have intimidated anyone. Philip wanted to take the matter to the police.”
The source added: “Bamby was being a major nuisance to Pat… In the end he went and put the camera in the bush on the private property of Pat’s own development. He wanted pictures of Philip of course, but that meant watching Pat too. She was collateral damage.”
A legal source said that the secret filming was a breach of not only professional standards – all media regulatory codes in the UK forbid the use of subterfuge under such circumstances – but also potentially criminal and civil laws.
Under the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) Editors’ Code of Practice the use of hidden cameras is forbidden unless with a clear public interest defence, as are unjustified intrusions into private and family life – an area also protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 – while intrusions into shock and grief must be made with “sympathy and discretion”.
A spokesperson for IPSO said it had already issued a “privacy notice” after a complaint.
The legal source said: “This is an intrusion into Mrs Schofield’s shock and grief at a time when she needed medical assistance. Whatever was going on in Philip Schofield’s life, there was no requirement for his photograph to be taken under these circumstances. It wasn’t needed in order to identify him – there are thousands of images of him in existence already.
“The photographer’s use of clandestine equipment on private property and then persistent taking of pictures could be characterised as harassment, trespass, and a clear breach of privacy. From a legal and ethical point of view, it is horrendous – completely indefensible behaviour.”
‘Number One Paparazzi’
Freelance Bamby revels in being the UK’s self-styled “number one paparazzi”, although – according to X (formerly Twitter) in October – he claims to have recanted on the career with an apology to former target Coleen Rooney in which he called himself a “horrible person”.
In an earlier autobiography, and a 2017 Channel 4 documentary Confessions of the Paparazzi, he spoke freely of the methods that made him familiar to national picture editors and gave him a reputation that some colleagues feel is a stain on their industry.
One colleague told Byline Times: “George has always pushed the boundaries of what’s right and ethical. Even among a group of characters as tough as paps, he stood out. His way of doing things has made it harder for all of us.”
The documentary revealed that Bamby once sent a fake fan with a backstory about a sick grandmother to give TV presenter Judy Finnigan a bottle of wine as a gift, while he looked on through the viewfinder of his Canon.
Bamby later cropped the ‘fan’ out of the final images, and his shots of Ms Finnigan holding the bottle later appeared in national media alongside a misleading story about her lifestyle. He also admitted to photographing Finnigan in a beer garden while she was blinking to make her look asleep.
As Bamby told Channel 4: “I don’t just take pictures, I make stories. They might not always be true.”
He also told how he once photographed actor Aidan Turner smoking an e-cigarette on the set of Poldark and invented a story about his smoking habit bringing filming to a halt. “Next day, full page in the Mail,” he said. “I get two grand. They get the publicity. Readers get to read another load of shite. Happy days, innit?”
In a 2017 interview in The Times, Bamby spoke of targeting daytime television presenters in order to sell pictures to women’s magazines. He said: “People like Phillip [Schofield], Holly [Willoughby], all the Loose Women, Fern Britton, Richard and Judy. It’s easy money. If I can get [them] on the front of Best or Bella? That’s two or three grand.”
Last year, novelist and TV host Britton shared an Instagram reel about an upsetting experience she had with Bamby. “I’ve just had one of those distressing moments out of the blue,” she told her followers. “There’s a pap, his name is George Bamby. “He’s a menace, and he’ll be proud to hear me say that. He’s an absolute menace.”
Britton claimed Bamby secretly snatched long-lens pictures through holes in the side of a vehicle. Referring to Bamby and a “spotter” colleague, Britton added: “I just saw them, up in my little village. I knew it was him, I haven’t seen him for years… He wrote me a letter a little while ago saying ‘I’m so sorry for everything I did to you, I feel so ashamed, I’ve found religion, I feel awful’. Hmm!”
Bamby’s 2017 self-incrimination led many national newspapers to place a moratorium on his material. But Byline Times has learned that he continued to sell to some outlets through a national picture agency, which this newspaper is not naming for legal reasons.
Last year, Bamby confessed to falsely claiming to be the son of Britain’s most notorious prisoner Charles Bronson for six years as part of a lucrative public relations stunt that generated “loads of money”.
Speaking after Bronson made a failed parole bid, Bamby told TalkTV: “Me and Charlie together made up the story that he was my dad. Charles Bronson is not my father. I am a PR agent. I’m a marketing person, and I’m the UK’s number one paparazzi. I’ve not told anybody this for six years and it’s been an absolute bane of my life.”
He added that he “didn’t even tell my wife, I didn’t even tell my family” and that “my wife is sat here now and she looks horrified”.
Bamby said the profits were split between him and Bronson’s consultant because people serving jail time are not legally allowed to profit from their wrongdoing. He said: “Me and Charlie… have made loads of money.
“We’ve had loads of fun, we’ve created loads of stories, we’ve done loads of ridiculous things, we’ve manipulated the media, we’ve manipulated the prison service. I got into the maximum security in four different prisons as a journalist.”
Bamby now claims to be foregoing his photographic career.
After watching Colleen Rooney’s documentary Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story, he wrote last month: “I was the pap that used to photograph [Coleen and Wayne Rooney]. Can’t believe what I used to do for a living. Totally ashamed. I am so sorry Wayne and Coleen for being such a horrible person!”
Bamby has since announced his retirement from the industry and has put his camera equipment on sale for £7,500.
A newspaper photographer source told Byline Times: “Bamby has been part of the reason why we get so much abuse as an industry. If he has actually retired from the business, we will believe it when we see it.”
Byline Times contacted George Bamby ahead of publication. He declined to comment on the confrontation with Philip Schofield and said he had not been contacted by police.
coming up next: catch and tell
Four Major Public Interest Scandals the Tabloids Covered Up