A small team of journalists working in a “bunker” based away from the main newsroom have been producing the Daily Telegraph’s historic MPs expenses coverage, assistant editor Andrew Pierce has revealed.
And with the revelations already having covered 240 broadsheet pages, there are still more to come according to Pierce. “They are still in the bunker, if that gives you a clue,” he said.
Speaking at a debate held at the Frontline Club in London, Pierce said of the Telegraph’s expenses team: “They were working morning noon and night. Only a handful of people knew what was going to be in the newspaper the next day.”
Pierce described how the Telegraph team went through the data systematically, ensuring that they went through “the lot”. He said: “I’m glad we did look at every single person.”
Describing how the Telegraph co-ordinated more than three weeks of front pages, he said: “We started with the cabinet, then the shadow big hitters and then husbands and wives, where we discovered the term flipping.
“Then we discovered the accountancy fees which gave us extraordinary momentum.”
Pierce said the team was shocked to discover some of the items the MPs had been claiming for.
“When the Daily Telegraph acquired this information, we had no comprehension of the level of abuses,” he said.
Pierce responded to the suggestion that the Daily Telegraph had been involved in a “bribe” to get the information, saying: “Fleet Street has survived on leaks for years.”
It is widely believed that the Telegraph paid through an intermediary for the details of MPs’ expenses.
On this point he said: “I’ve no idea if any money changed hands,” adding wryly: “I assume it didn’t”.
“We will stick to our guns at the Telegraph and not discuss whether money changed hands.”
Describing the way the Telegraph carried out the investigation as “proper old-fashioned journalism”, he said: “It was spotting those fiddles and tracking down mortgages that didn’t exist.
“It was proper old fashioned journalism at its finest”, he said, adding that the work was “painstaking”.
Describing the public interest argument for the Telegraph obtaining and publishing the information about MPs’ expenses, Pierce said: “If we hadn’t put this in the public domain, if we’d relied on the House of Commons to publish these files they would have redacted, censored, Tipexed out and covered up.
“We wouldn’t have known the addresses of these second homes, we’d never have found out that Elliot Morley had had a phantom mortgage for 19 months, we’d never have found out that David Chaytor had a phantom mortgage for 15 months.
“We would never have known that Conservative MP Andrew MacKay had claimed for a second home that didn’t exist.
“We wouldn’t have known that Francis Maude, who is still in the shadow cabinet, that his second home, £24,000 a year tax-free, is a mile from his existing home.
“It’s an abuse of the system and it’s so important that this is in the public domain which is why we have all three party leaders wedded to changing this system and why the Speaker of the House of Commons has been kicked out for the first time in 300 years.
“All of that is in the public interest and makes it legitimate that the Telegraph got this information, however it did, and put it out there.”