Police e-fit expert retiring after 15 years at Bethnal Green
- Credit: Me Police
The man whose graphic imaging finally caught east London’s vicious serial park rapist is finally hanging up his e-fit equipment and retiring.
It was Tony Barnes’ sharp imaging — taken from witnesses' and victims' descriptions — that caught notorious Derry McCann, now currently serving his second life sentence.
Tony, seen above in his own e-fit self portrait, has been working at Bethnal Green police station for the past 15 years after joining the Met from Essex Police.
He’s been the Met’s only e-fit officer for the past eight years, but now hands in his warrant card in March and heads back to the countryside after an eventful career nailing some of London’s most hunted criminals.
Tony would create almost perfect images from witness descriptions which would appear in the press or TV during some of London’s biggest manhunts.
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“Either people think of me as the most published artist or I’m the only police officer in London paid to draw pictures all day long,” Tony says with a wry smile. Both are true — although Banksy gets his fair share of column space.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky to do something at work that I love. I use natural creative talents, but also get to meet interesting people.”
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He joined up as a Pc, but saw the graphic art opportunity and knew it was right for him, like this e-fit self portrait. Tony has interviewed at least 2,000 people from all backgrounds, all either victims or witnesses to crime.
It was this work that snared a 28-year-old McCann in January 2017 after a vicious rape in Victoria Park when he attacked a woman just hours before marrying his pregnant fiancée. He was jailed for a minimum nine years after pleading guilty in court to three rapes as well as robbery.
But it wasn’t the first long spell inside. McCann was just 17 when he tortured and raped a woman in Mile End Park in 2006 after dragging her down a slope by the lake. He got a life sentence — but was out in 2015 and soon returned to his life of violence against women, and became the subject of Tony Barnes’ e-fit skills.
Sometimes e-fit images fall short of the mark. That's not Tony's fault.
“This is something often forgotten by the press,” he tells you. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t laughed at some of the e-fits I’ve seen over the years.
“The truth is that every image you see is not the vision of police officers. It’s what witnesses have described to those officers.
“The artistic skills of some of the composite artists may be lacking at times. But that image only appears for the public if the witness says there is a likeness to the suspect.”
Some very old images look unrealistic by today’s standards, Tony admits. Not all e-fits lead to arrest — but many have led to collars being felt.
“People sometimes ask whether e-fits are still needed today, given the extent of CCTV and other technology. These things have diminished the need for e-fits in some ways, but there are always criminals who lurk in the shadows and manage to evade any camera. That’s where we come in. There will always be a place for what we do.”
Tony has soldiered on alone in his e-fit office in Bethnal Green since 2013. But four new officers have now been given national training accreditation in e-fit art and are currently being taught about all things in the composite image world by a very strict teacher — Tony himself.
Yet not for long. Come March, he’s off to the countryside in a floppy hat and smock, as he describes it, to “paint until the sun goes down”.