Telegraph journalists Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner have revealed for the first time in detail how they beat The Sun to land the MPs’ expenses scoop.
Their account of how the MPs’ expenses scandal unfolded has been published today in their book No Expenses Spared.
It reveals how Telegraph journalists persuaded their source to go with them, rather than another newspaper, after issuing assurances that the Telegraph would cover all the information about MPs’ expenses and cover all parties, and not just pick out the most juicey details.
The book reveals how PR man Henry Gewanter first approached the Telegraph by simply calling the paper’s Westminster office back in March this year, asking to speak to political editor Andrew Porter.
He spoke instead to political correspondent Rosa Prince and revealed to her that he had a computer disc revealing the details of all MPs’ expenses going back four years.
Gewanter, who was acting as a middleman for the source of the data, said: “I have to tell you that the material has been offered to other newspapers, but they were only interested in one political party. If you were to go ahead with publication, any coverage you give mustn’t be partial. We don’t want it to be based on any one political party. The source is very keen that it should cover every political party.”
The book reveals that Telegraph deputy political editor Robert Winnett first met Gewanter on 30 March, a day when the news was dominated by a Sunday Express story, based on the MPs’ expenses data, about then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
At this point Gewanter said that a “small number” of other newspapers had been approached with the expenses information.
The following day, The Times printed a story revealing that it had been offered the expenses data by a “businessman” for £300,000 and turned it down. Although The Times made said it would not be naming names, the story prompted Gewanter to steer clear of the press for a few weeks,
Winnett reveals in the book that he was given a sample disc of MPs data on 21 April, only to be told days later that former SAS man John Wick, the man who had obtained the data, was also in advanced talks to sell it to The Sun.
The Sun was apparently given until the end of play on Friday, 24 April, to do a deal.
The book claims that The Sun failed to buy the disc because “it wanted to cherry pick the expenses claims of the most high-profile MPs and leave the vast majority untouched”.
Final negotiations between Telegraph executives and Gewanter were conducted on Monday morning, 27 April.
The book reveals that Telegraph news editor Chris Evans told Gewanter: “I can promise you The Sun will mess you around. They’ll say they’re interested but then they’ll come back to you and say they only want to do a few MPs. If you go with us, we’ll do all of them.”
At lunchtime the following day Winnett put a deal to Wick and Gewanter: £10,000 for an exclusive opportunity to study the expenses data for ten days, then a further £100,000 if they decided to go ahead and publish.
The book claims that Wick would later turn down sums of up to £500,000 to give the data to other newspapers.
The information was handed over on 29 April, on a small red disc drive no bigger than a cigarette case.
The Telegraph would kick off its devastating series of scoops on 8 May just over a week later.