Journalism, law and misidentification: McNabbed?

From Look to the Stars, a German charity sector website - the real Andy McNab?     From Look to the Stars, a German charity sector website - the real Andy McNab?

From Look to the Stars, a German charity sector website - the real Andy McNab?

Picture the scene: it’s monday morning, the coffee is cooling, I’m blankly trolling around in a free-associating Google image search. For some reason a glimpsed headline suggests the name Andy McNab to me and I end up looking at a screenful of pixellated thumbnails of the celebrated SAS survivor.

In one corner I notice an undisguised head and shoulders shot – a bit of a shock as, famously, McNab guards his identity carefully: he’d won the Military Medal for service in Northern Ireland and later trained anti-Cartel forces in Colombia; so he’s got all sorts of understandable reasons to keep his head down.

Here was an odd-looking face – head shaved, strong neckline, glancing slightly ostentatiously at the camera, in what seemed to be a PR faceshot. A quick look at one of McNab’s books in WH Smiths showed that the neckline, chin and cheekbones on the web pic looked quite close to the only other undisguised pic of Andy, taken in 1977 in South Armagh.

Could this be the first undisguised pic of the famous Mr McNab? (Link checked on January 27, 2009, still there). It’s on a German-based PR flummery site that seems to be soliciting money for charity contacts. Why was the pic there? Was it just an innocent mistake by an inept webmaster? After all, in newsrooms all over Britain there are photos of the man himself before the pixels are layered over, and in edit suites there must be hours of video of him without his digital disguise in place. Must be easy for someone to pop the wrong pic in the queue to FTP to the webserver, I wondered.

Wanting to find out more, I popped off an email to McNab’s publisher, Bantam (an imprint of Random House). I asked if they knew about the site. I guess I also had bought into the mystique of McNab – if he really wants to keep Sinn Fein/IRA and the Cali Cartel off his tail he’d want to know about this, I thought.

A press assistant at Bantam gets back to me: “It is always good to know that people will comment when they see something that is not right. Fortunately in this case the gentleman pictured is not Andy McNab, nor does he look anything like him – so a potentially disastrous situation is actually quite amusing.”

Ok then, so it’s not McNab. In a way I’m relieved not to be mixed up in outing McNab: if I had, he’d possibly turn up on my doorstep with some of his former friends from Hereford to remonstrate… A contact in the intelligence community tells me that McNab’s real ID is well known ‘in the trade’ and his wishes to keep his head down are merely a great way to build his brand as an author. So there we’ll leave the real McNab.

But if it’s not him, then who is it? While our friendly Bantam press assistant might find it ‘quite amusing’, if McNab’s really got mobile units of trackers on his tail then surely the person misidentified in the picture is going to be pretty cheesed off to be woken one day looking up the barrel of a nine millimetre pistol.

Now, publishing law is one of first (and most worrying) bits of professional practice you learn about when doing your NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course. Misidentification by hacks can cause all sorts of distress and has resulted in some biggish payouts to unfortunate innocents.

Robert Rigby, as seen on Random House's own website

Robert Rigby, as seen on Random House's own website

Some days later, things move on. I find the not-McNab pic again, in another Google Image search. This time it’s got the name Robert Rigby underneath it. Rigby turns out to be the co-writer who pounds the keyboard while McNab yarns away about the years of gunsmoke and car chases.

OK – stand down the lawyers and bodyguards – this seems to me to be quite benign, with one big proviso: if I were Robert Rigby, I’d get onto that German webmaster and get the pic of him taken off the site asap. We don’t know how long the pic’s been up, misidentifying him as McNab, but search engine servers and spiders have been indexing this pic for months and the error, if left, will linger for a long time.

In online journalism, early action to correct legal errors is absolutely vital because of the danger of  search engine caching of the legally unsound material.  Once it’s out there in Google Image land, it’s in the wild.



About Jon Pratty

Human - for now
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4 Responses to Journalism, law and misidentification: McNabbed?

  1. Lynn says:

    Robert Rigby is not (his) ghost writer – he’s CO-writer of the Boy Soldier series 😉

    See interview

  2. big sven says:

    Rigby does share not a few facial-features with McNab, and ‘Andy’ would be about that age and look today. I think they are desperately trying to whitewash the fact that it is him. I’ve had it said he’s Steven ‘Billy’ Mitchell, though. These guys probably operate under several guises. I’ve the talking-book of Bravo Zero and the voice, said to be McNab (certainly not a professional actor) doesn’t sound like the McNab seen on the tele. The taped voice did have the requisite London accent McNab should have (he’s said to be a street-scrubber from Norf Lunden) the tele McNab doesn’t.

    It’s a bit ridiculous to think he’s hiding from the Provos and drug-lords, these people have sleeper-agents everywhere, including amongst high officials, the army and immigration officials, and probably have always known who he is, and where he is. Many other ex-SAS are very well known in the media, even telling where they served, with impunity. I think Rigby/Mitchell has just been using his shadowy-notoriety to sell his books, as he doesn’t exactly look like Cary Grant or John Wayne, does he.

    Besides, he wasn’t very good, was he. Well, they didn’t blow the optic telecommunications cables they were sent to neutralise, they turned and hoofed-it the first time they got shot at, running the wrong way too, into the arms of the army and poplice.

    I knew guys from Irak and Iran, and they weren’t very impressed. They were refugees from the war between the 2 countries, ex-soldiers, deserters, hopping up and down gleefully expecting the SAS to kick arse something brilliant, but soon deflated like a spent ballon when reality began to soak through. After Bravo Zero no Arab has any respect for the SAS anymore. They expected the SAS to fight their way to the cables, blow them, and die fighting if needs be, the best soldiers on God’s Earth and proud of it. The SAS NEVER back down, they always fight their way out of a problem, each man fighting like ten normal soldiers. THAT frightened the Arabs.

    For a unit born in the desert they proved rank amateurs in the desert, to the point several died for no reason other than they didn’t know how to survive there. They carried at least 60kgs of hide-equipment each, instead of food and water, ammo, more suitable clothing, radios (that worked). The hide equipment they carried was useless to them, they couldn’t use it. “Nowhere to hide, either,” said one Arab, who had actually been in that area during his time in the army, “It’s not soft sand, as they seemed to think, only the Sahara is that, but hard as concrete, and flat as a pancake. A hide would be useless, like putting up a flag saying ‘here we are!’ And you can stand in this flat place, looking around at the distant horizon, seeing not a sign of life. BUT. There IS life out there, You have been seen and are being watched and talked about by at least a dozen people, shepherds with goats. And hiding in a gully, as they did, is ridiculous, did they think the locals didn’t know it was there? Knowing elite-units might be in the area the locals would look out the door, see nothing, and say ‘They must be hiding in the gully’. They only way for the SAS to hide there is to pretend to be Revolutionary Guards, strutting about. They are feared and people avoid them. Why didn’t the SAS know this?”

    Well, enough of that.

    I know a soldier who served in Ireland, even undercover it has been suggested, but as long as he doesn’t go back without backup he’s in no risk-zone. Many soldiers served in Ireland, in and out of uniform. The local police are the ones in possible danger, not the squadies serving their country.

    McNab is merely trying to maintain his shadowy-reputation so he can sell books.

  3. JL Hunt says:

    That is in fact Robert Rigby, big sven. You do a lot of spouting off for someone who doesn’t appear to be a soldier himself, although apparently you get all your windy self confidence from “knowing” some. Wonder how you’d hold up under torture? They’d probably release you just to get away from the sound of your voice.

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