One of the middlemen who helped leak details of MPs’ expenses to the Daily Telegraph said last night that he was “extremely proud” of his actions – and nobody involved “did it for money”.
Henry Gewanter, a public relations consultant brought in to help get the data to the media, said he did not know the identity of the whistleblower and would not say where they worked to protect them from repercussions.
He refused to say whether any money had changed hands in the deal eventually agreed with the Daily Telegraph but insisted: “Nobody involved in this did it for money.”
He told BBC2’s Newsnight: “Being on your show tonight, I get fifty quid and cab fare home. That is the extent of the payments I actually will be seeing from this.”
Pressed if anyone else had received money, he said: “There were a number of conditions that we needed to impose on whichever newspaper got the story.
“Clearly the confidential details of the specifics with the Telegraph and indeed other discussions I had with other newspapers must remain confidential.
“I will say though that there were conditions which involved protecting the sources and that included the possibility of legal defence.”
He said he knew immediately that the information was “dynamite” and had been very surprised when it proved difficult to get it published by a newspaper.
One unnamed publication refused to agree a condition to carry details of MPs from all parties, he said, accusing it of “wanting to use it to destroy one party”.
Gewanter was brought in by John Wick, the Conservative party-supporting head of a corporate intelligence company, who was originally approached with the information.
Scotland Yard has ruled out any investigation of the leak, but Gewanter said he was acutely aware of the potential pitfalls of getting involved.
“I immediately thought ‘this is dynamite, it’s big trouble, I could be arrested, deported or disappeared’ so I just said ‘yes, sure John, I’ll help you’.
“I was very careful to make sure that I didn’t know the source’s name. I didn’t want to know what he or she looked like or how many of them there were.
“But John Wick, the person who asked my help, and I have some experience in dealing with highly-secret confidential information.
“So it was important that if for whatever reason one or both of us were arrested, that we be able to give as little away as possible.”
Asked if he knew where they worked, he said: “It is important that this whistleblower’s protected from possible repercussions so I can’t discuss anything about them.”
Gewanter said he had also avoided physically handling the data himself but had been “able to arrange for it to appear where it needed to appear”.
He denied the information was “hawked around” newspapers but admitted surprise at the problems getting it published.
“I thought it would be a very simple straightforward job, all I would have to do is approach one decent newspaper and that would be the end of it” he said – saying two papers were approached before he was brought in,” he told Newsnight.
“But to my great surprise, it turned out to be one of the most difficult, complicated and long-running projects of my entire life. Several newspapers were approached from several different newspaper groups.
“Nobody declined it. Everybody was keen to have it but they wanted it on their own terms and that was unacceptable to the whistleblower and it was unacceptable to me.
“One of the prime conditions was that whichever newspaper did get the exclusive had to be willing to cover every MP who misbehaved from whatever party.
“There is at least one newspaper who wanted to use it to destroy one party,” he said, but would not name it.
Last month, Wick told the Telegraph he had “no regrets” about his role in getting the information into the public domain, saying the expenses system had been “exposed to its rotten core”.
He said he had been assured the details were not stolen and accused the House of Commons authorities of “lax and unprofessional security procedures” in handling the information.
He did not identify the Commons whistleblower, but said his contact had indicated that “those directly involved in processing the raw data were shocked and appalled by what they were seeing”.