Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

MP expenses story 'laced with risk'

The editor who broke the MPs' expenses scandal has said the story was "laced with risk" but he felt a duty to make it public.

Former Daily Telegraph editor-in-chief Will Lewis told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that exposing the abuses of parliamentary allowances was "one of the most important bits of public service and public interest journalism in the post-war period".

Mr Lewis described how his initial worries about the possibility of being hoaxed over the story turned into a feeling that he had a "responsibility" to publish it. He confirmed that the Telegraph paid about £150,000 for a computer disk containing four years of information about MPs' expenses, but insisted that it was not stolen.

The ex-editor told the inquiry his first concern on being offered the disk in 2009 was to ensure that it was genuine, mindful of how the Sunday Times was tricked into publishing the fake Hitler diaries more than 25 years earlier.

He added: "I was also aware of the fact that this story was laced with risk all around, as the best and most important public interest journalism tends to be - whether it was the time that we had in order to be able to investigate it, whether it was the reaction of the readers."

Mr Lewis consulted lawyers before entering negotiations to buy the data, the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London was told.

"Given that the information had been copied on to a disk, the advice was that it was not capable of theft," he said.

A Telegraph team was given 10 days to make a preliminary examination of the material and soon found evidence of abuses of the parliamentary expenses system, the inquiry heard.

Mr Lewis said: "They uncovered quite quickly things that no one thought probable. Looking through such stuff, I became very aware that it was my responsibility to bring this to the public domain. It was no longer a choice for me as editor. I knew this was a duty to bring this into the public domain."

Mr Lewis joined News International in September 2010 and now sits on News Corporation's management and standards committee, which is looking at the phone-hacking scandal that resulted in the closure of the News of the World last July.


From Belfast Telegraph