Oliver Letwin sorry for throwing work documents in park bin
Conservative minister apologises after being photographed binning papers but insists they contained nothing sensitive
Oliver Letwin, a minister in the Cabinet Office, has apologised after being photographed dumping work-related documents in bins in a park close to Downing Street but insisted that none of the ditched papers contained classified information.
David Cameron's chief policy adviser gave the assurance after the revelations, backed by photographs of one piece of correspondence thrown away and of the minister putting papers in different bins, sparked concern about potential security risks as well as data protection breaches.
On Friday morning, the office of the information commissioner said it was launching an investigation into potential breaches of the Data Protection Act.
The Daily Mirror reported that Letwin was seen on five separate days binning sensitive correspondence on terrorism and national security as well as constituents' private details in the park near No 10.
In all, the Mirror claimed that Letwin threw away more than 100 papers containing private information, including five intelligence and security committee (ISC) letters. In one, MP Andrew Tyrie reportedly tells the ISC chairman, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the committee "failed to get to the truth on UK involvement in rendition".
Another discarded document referred to al-Qaida links to Pakistan, the newspaper claimed.
Cameron, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, and the chancellor, George Osborne, are all said to be mentioned in the dumped papers, as are organisations including the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the NHS.
The paper described the Cabinet Office minister's actions as a security breach, but a spokesman for Letwin insisted on Thursday evening that the papers were not of a sensitive nature.
The newspaper reports triggered a letter from the Labour MP and shadow minister without portfolio Michael Dugher to the cabinet secretary, Gus O'Donnell, calling on him to investigate the classification of any discarded documents and whether strict procedures for the disposal of government documents were breached.
By late Friday morning, Downing Street confirmed that the Cabinet Office was looking into whether any sensitive material had been among the papers dumped. "Our understanding is that there were no classified documents," a spokeswoman for No 10 said.
"Most of the business Mr Letwin does in the park is constituency based. In the light of what has been reported, the Cabinet Office is looking into it."
Asked what the prime minister's view was, she added: "Clearly, it's not a sensible way to dispose of documents. Mr Letwin has agreed he will not dispose of documents in this way again."
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, accused the minister of "treating important papers with contempt" and engaging in "very strange behaviour".
A fresh statement was issued by an aide to Letwin with an apology attached and the insistence that none of the information ditched had related to "official government business".
"Oliver Letwin is an incredibly hardworking constituency MP," the spokesman said. "He does some of his parliamentary and constituency correspondence in the park before going to work in the morning and sometimes disposed of copies of letters there. These documents related to constituency and parliamentary rather than official government business, and did not contain any classified information.
"Mr Letwin sincerely apologises to any concerned constituents and would like to make assurances that he will no longer dispose of copies of documents and constituency correspondence in this way."
Letwin, the MP for West Dorset, is an early riser who does a morning circuit of St James's Park, usually starting at 5.30am. In this period he dictates letters for typing by his secretary during the day.
The Labour backbencher Jeremy Corbyn told Radio 5 Live that while he enjoyed the "idea of ministers walking around the park in the morning", carrying confidential documents was wrong. "It's a remarkably silly thing to do," the MP for Islington North said. "To then dump them all in a bin is really very stupid, because he could easily be spotted and followed and anybody could then pick them up."
A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said: "We are aware of the allegations and are making inquiries. Keeping personal data secure is a key principle of the Data Protection Act, and the ICO takes any breach of that principle very seriously."
Speaking in Leeds, Miliband said: "If it's true that there were constituents who'd written to him and he was looking at constituency letters and they just ended up in the bin, I don't think it's the right way to act and the right way to treat people and people's concerns.
"I think he'll have learnt his lesson, and I hope he does learn his lesson. I think most people would think: 'You're dealing with sensitive correspondence, you should treat it in a sensitive way.'"
"There are plenty of ways of getting rid of sensitive documents. All the parliamentary papers are shredded and so are the ones in the House of Commons and presumably the ministry as well."
The revelations present a further headache for Cameron in a week during which Downing Street has been forced on to the back foot over the defence secretary, Liam Fox who was forced to resign on Friday.
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond, tweeted: "How is Oliver Letwin working in the park newsworthy?! Whoever in Labour has asked for (yet another) inquiry should be put to sleep."
Saturday, 15 October 2011
Oliver Letwin sorry for throwing work documents in park bin | Politics | guardian.co.uk