An artist-turned police officer is hanging up his virtual pen after 15 years depicting some of Britain’s most notorious criminals.
Over his career, PC Tony Barnes has worked to recreate the likenesses of killers, rapists, robbers and thieves in a bid to bring them to justice.
As the Metropolitan Police’s sole e-fit operator for seven years, the 54-year-old said he is the only officer in London who is paid to draw pictures all day long.
A fitting tribute to his work has been created to mark PC Barnes’ retirement – his very own e-fit.
But attempting to accurately generate a suspect’s face from only a witness or victim’s account can produce some controversial results.
While many e-fits have led to the successful identification of dangerous crooks, some have drawn criticism for hairstyles and facial features that appear bizarre and unrealistic at first glance.
However PC Barnes insists ridicule of computer-aided e-fits can be unfair given that many of the details are provided by traumatised victims.
Artist-turned police officer PC Tony Barnes is hanging up his virtual pen after 15 years depicting some of Britain’s most notorious criminals. One of the e-fits PC Barnes is most proud of (left) led to the arrest of rapist Derry McCann (right), who attacked a woman in Victoria Park just hours before his wedding in 2016
‘I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t laughed at some of the e-fits I have seen over the years. I bet you have as well,’ Barnes told SWNS news agency.
‘The truth is that every e-fit that you see in the press or on TV is not the vision of the police office or police staff member.
‘It is what the witness has described to those officers. Sure, the artistic skills of some of the composite artists may be lacking at times, but that image only appears for public consumption if the witness says there is a likeness to the suspect.
‘I have pride in all the images that I have helped create over the years, even if some very old images look unrealistic by today’s standards.’
PC Tony Barnes (right) celebrated his retirement with an e-fit in his own likeness (left)
One of the e-fits PC Barnes is most proud of led to the conviction of Derry McCann, who raped a 24-year-old woman whom he did not know in Victoria Park in London in 2016 just hours before he married the cousin of footballer Harry Kane.
Derry had been freed for a similar attack in 2006 but was released nine years later after successfully challenging his sentence.
‘Of course not all e-fit images lead to an arrest but lots have, including the conviction of Derry McCann,’ Barnes said, adding that McCann was then sentenced to life in prison.
PC Barnes insists ridicule of computer-aided e-fits can be unfair given that many of the details are provided by traumatised victims. Pictured: Two e-fits by PC Tony Barnes of suspects in distraction burglaries targeting elderly victims in Hackney, east London on July 22, 2019
PC Barnes said that his work identifies suspects at a rate of at least one in four.
He transferred to the Met from Essex Police in 2006 and has been the force’s only e-fit operator since 2013.
Prior to joining the police, Barnes dropped out of art school. He was put on Scotland Yard’s e-fit team after he was caught sketching colleagues.
Despite the rise of CCTV, facial recognition software and mobile phone footage, e-fits still provide a valuable tool to police searching for suspects who did not appear on camera or who have hidden their faces, Barnes said.
‘People sometimes ask whether e-fits are still needed today, given the extent of CCTV and other technology.
According to Barnes, his work identifies suspects at a rate of at least one in four. Pictured: An e-fit by PC Tony Barnes of a woman police would like to speak to in relation to an aggravated burglary on New Years Eve 2019
‘While it’s of course true that these things have diminished the need for e-fits in some ways, there are always criminals who lurk in the shadows and manage to evade any cameras.
‘That’s where we come in and why I think there will always be a place for what we do.’
Over his career, PC Barnes said that he has interviewed more than 2,000 witnesses in every borough of the capital.
Despite the high numbers of witnesses and their different backgrounds, Barnes said all the people he’d interviewed had ‘one thing in common’.
Over his career, PC Barnes said that he has interviewed more than 2,000 witnesses in every borough of the capital. Pictured: An e-fit by PC Tony Barnes of a man police want to speak to in connection with indecent exposure outside a primary school in Tower Hamlets, east London on September 29, 2020
‘They had either been the victim of, or witness to a crime. Some of them, very serious indeed. This is something that is often forgotten by the press.’
PC Barnes also joked that he was the most published artist in the Evening Standard after Banksy.
‘I like to tell people one of two things about me. Either that I’m the most published artist in the Evening Standard or that I’m the only police officer in London who’s paid to draw pictures all day long.
‘Both are true I think, although Banksy gets his fair share of column space.
‘Whatever I tell people, I know that I have been incredibly lucky to do something at work that I love doing. Not only can I use my natural creative talents, but I get to meet very interesting people.
Despite the rise of CCTV, facial recognition software and mobile phone footage, e-fits still provide a valuable tool to police searching for suspects who did not appear on camera or who have hidden their faces, Barnes said. Pictured: An e-fit by PC Tony Barnes of a suspect in relation to an aggravated burglary in Southwark, south London in which a man was attacked and tied up and stuffed in his downstairs toilet before being robbed on September 23, 2020
‘I joined as a PC but when I saw this opportunity, I knew it was right for me and that’s proved exactly right.’
PC Barnes will be retiring in March after helping to show four new recruits the ropes.
The new officers have received the national training accreditation in e-fit and are currently being taught about the world of composite images.
Barnes joked that while he’s a ‘very strict teacher’ for now, after retiring he’ll be: ‘off to the countryside in a floppy hat and a smock to paint until the sun goes down’.
PC Barnes is now training four officers to take over when he retires in March. Pictured: An e-fit by PC Tony Barnes of a man wanted over the robbery of a pregnant woman, who was kicked in the stomach and later miscarried in Wanstead, east London in July 2020