Former Commons photographer's home raided 'over stolen furniture'

Lisa O'Carroll
Photograph: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA

The House of Commons’ former official photographer, responsible for famous front page images of the last two year’s Brexit drama, has had his home raided by police after a clash with parliamentary authorities.

Officers from the Metropolitan police turned up at Mark Duffy’s London home on Wednesday morning with a court order allowing them to search for parliamentary “Pugin-designed furniture, candlesticks, ceramics, clocks or lamps”.

However, the only items police seized were a plastic sign bearing former Brexit secretary David Davis’s name and a piece of fabric with the insignia of Portcullis House.

“It was about 8am and I went to the door and there were eight police and a police van. They told me they were looking for furniture from the House of Commons and a lamp. I couldn’t believe it,” said Duffy.

He said the police spent two hours searching his home but the only thing that they seized were the sign, which he had “retrieved from a bin”, and the piece of cloth.

The photographer, who lives in south London, was sacked from his post last September for allegedly bringing parliament into disrepute over social media posts and use of abstract images in an art exhibition.

“I like to think of myself as a decent person. That they leapt to the conclusion that I would steal after working in parliament for five years is shocking.

“How did they think I got an armchair out of parliament?” he said.

The Met confirmed they had “received a report of theft from the Houses of Parliament” on 31 January.

“It was reported that a number of items had allegedly been stolen from the Palace of Westminster by a former employee. On Wednesday 12 February a search warrant was carried out an address in Lambeth. No arrests were made.”

Duffy says he has suffered acute stress and shock since the raid including tremors and has consulted with a lawyer over his rights.

Mark Lewis of Patron Law said: “I have been instructed by Mr Duffy to take action in respect of the harassment and abuse that has been dished out in a clear misuse of executive powers.”

The clash with his former employers is a chilling turn of events after the drama of last year when his photographs were frequently used on newspapers’ front pages.

His images of Theresa May, John Bercow, Boris Johnson and many others captured the tumult and highly charged exchanges of the last two years in parliament and were dubbed “accidental renaissance” in some quarters for their composition and dramatic content

Among the most famous was one of the health secretary, Matt Hancock, education secretary, Damian Hinds, and other MPs including Jo Churchill beseeching Bercow to watch a video of Jeremy Corbyn who was alleged to have muttered the words “stupid woman” in a heated exchange with May.

But he clashed with authorities last year who alleged his social media posts “paint parliament in a negative light and breach impartiality rules” and a private art exhibition themed around Brexit that he mounted was of a “political nature which was breach of impartiality rules”.

Theresa May addresses the House of Commons after losing vote for her Brexit deal in January 2019. Photograph: Mark Duffy/AP

At issue, Duffy suspects, was his determination to ensure still photographers working in the chamber in the House of Commons had the same rights as TV cameras.

While he had “rolling permission” to release photos to the media, he said things started “going south” after an argument over a photograph of Labour MP Tulip Siddiq who was forced to abandon a scheduled caesarian to vote against May’s Brexit deal.

“They stopped us releasing that picture on the grounds she did not look well, but it was used as a screen grab from the TV filming, so it didn’t make sense”.

Subsequently he found he was having regular arguments over what the photographers could do and felt he was rubbing up against the enormous power of the institution.

Last summer he was off work due to stress-related illness and in September was sacked from his job while on leave. His letter of dismissal acknowledges that he had cited sick leave for not attending disciplinary hearings.

Duffy also says that the police raid indicates the House of Commons were still monitoring his social media.

“It is creepy. I have been subjected to outright harassment ever since last year and it’s been exhausting,” he said.

A House of Commons spokesperson said it could “not comment on individual HR matters”.

Theresa May makes a statement on Brexit to the House of Commons, 25 March 2019. Photograph: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA

They added: “The House of Commons has extensive policies in place to protect both staff and managers should allegations of misconduct arise. We work closely with the recognised trade unions on all disciplinary cases and ensure that any staff involved are offered representation and have access to emotional support. Questions relating to alleged criminal offences and police activity are a matter for the Metropolitan police.”

They said parliament’s behaviour code was “clear” in relation to MPs and staff and there was “zero tolerance for abuse or harassment” and those who have experienced bullying should submit a complaint through the “independent complaints and grievance scheme. In addition, all current and former staff can access the employee assistance programme for emotional support.”