Business secretary Vince Cable was today forced to issue a public apology after his local paper revealed he put constituents’ letters in rubbish bags left on the street.
The story came to light after the Richmond and Twickenham Times was contacted by a member of the public who had been collecting discarded paperwork from outside Dr Cable’s constituency office.
The waste items included letters, confidential documents, national insurance numbers and contact details.
They were left each week outside the office, metres from the pavement, in clear plastic bags, to be collected by Richmond Council the following morning.
The Times, led by senior reporter Christine Fleming, broke the news with a special report in today’s edition, and the story immediately went national.
Dr Cable was swiftly forced to issue an unreserved apology for what he admitted was an “unacceptable breach of privacy.”
In a statement, he said: “A system is in place for shredding of confidential files and for safeguarding case work. Nonetheless, some correspondence which should have been protected was placed in bags for recycling outside the office.
“I apologise unreservedly to all my constituents for what has clearly been an unacceptable breach of their privacy.”
“The staff responsible accept that this was an entirely inappropriate way to handle such paperwork and that this was a serious error,” he added.
“Both I and my constituency team are dedicated to meeting the highest standards for the people of Twickenham. I am very sorry that, in this instance, they were not met.”
Times editor David Rankin said: “While Vince Cable is a popular MP in Twickenham, his role as business secretary and position as a data controller means he is now, more than ever, in the public eye.
“For such a lack of care to be shown for people’s personal information is quite shocking, and the reaction of the national press is a sure-fire sign that we were right to run this story.”
The Liberal Democrat MP could face a fine of up to £500,000 if he is found to have flouted data protection laws.
A spokeswoman for the information commissioner’s office confirmed that it was making inquiries into the potential data protection breach.