Feeds

Hunt for MPs' expenses leaker hots up

Damaging data flogged around Fleet Street

The Power of One Infographic

More details have emerged about how confidential information on MPs' expenses might have found its way into the hands of journalists.

The information, which has led to a string of articles that exposed how elected representatives made a series of questionable claims, was purchased by the Daily Telegraph from a seller who offered the data to other Fleet Street newspapers.

This data includes a hard drive containing expense claims made by MPs over the last five years, together with two million supporting documents including copies of expense claim forms, The Guardian reports. How someone managed to smuggle data from a classified machine onto a (presumably) external hard disc, much less smuggle out enough supporting paperwork to fill a van from the Palace of Westminster, remains unclear.

The circumstances suggest an insider, possibly one who works in the fees office, is behind the leak. The subsequent shenanigans make for a piece of political intrigue with shades of the thriller State of Play, with large hints of the caustic Westminster comedy The Thick of It.

On 18 March three journalists from The Times reportedly met with a broker to discuss the sale of the data at the offices of a public relations firm. An asking price of £300,000 - £250,000 for the data, £50,000 in analysis fees - was put on the table, along with a promise to provide legal indemnity during the 30 minute meeting, which involved discussion of snippets of the data on offer. The Times turned down the deal.

The businessman brokering the deal was identified by the Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times (here) and the Mail on Sunday (here) as John Wick, a former SAS major and current director of risk management and security firm International Security Solutions Limited (ISSL). Henry Gewanter, managing director of PR firm Positive Profile, reportedly assisted Wick.

El Reg spoke to Gewanter, who declined to comment. Staff at ISSL said that Wick was out of the office and unavailable for comment. We've left a message and will update this story as and when Wick gets in touch.

ISSL specialises in "corporate risk management" which, according to case studies on its site, involves everything from running kidnap and ransom response to tracking suspected internal fraud for a Caribbean telecoms firm, and defending an unnamed electronics firm against charges of violating UN sanctions.

In late March the Sunday Express ran an exclusive that home secretary Jacqui Smith's husband paid to watch a couple of X-rated films, the cost of which was subsequently claimed back on expenses. The data used to stand up this story apparently came from the same source.

Days after this scoop, The Sun was offered a portion of the expense claims information, but editor Rebekah Wade walked away from the deal after first offering only £20,000 for the information, a decision she reportedly regrets.

The seller next approached The Telegraph, which agreed an undisclosed deal and begin printing a series of stories. Whoever sold the information could find it hard to argue that they acted in the public interest after attempting to profit by auctioning the information around Fleet Street.

Intermediaries in the deal might also be implicated. Should police press on with an investigation, then editors at both the Sunday Express and the Daily Telegraph could also have reason to worry.

Fleet Street insiders describe the deal as amateurish, mainly because neither the Daily Mail nor the Mail on Sunday, the two papers likely to pay the highest fees, were offered the scoop. ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.