Update: Media Guardian reports that the Telegraph could face prosecution over the expenses story:
...lawyers said that, if claims the paper paid up to £300,000 for the information ‑ reportedly contained in a computer disk stolen from the parliamentary fees office ‑ were accurate, both the mole and the paper remained at risk of criminal prosecution.
"The person who leaked the expenses information is likely to follow in the long line of civil servants who may be prosecuted for breaches of the Computer Misuse Act, the Data Protection Act 1998 or even our old favourite, the Official Secrets Act", Andrew Sharpe, a partner at the Charles Russell law firm, said.
Following on from my earlier post, the Press Gazette says:
Journalists from rival newspapers believe the Daily Telegraph paid £150,000 for data revealing the full details of the expenses claims of cabinet ministers.
This was the figure doing the rounds at the journalists' bar in the House of Commons last night.
There were also suggestions that because the Telegraph apparently had access to the "unredacted" documents about expenses, MPs could have a case for breach of privacy over the leaked information.
Unredacted information could include details such as cabinet ministers' private mobile phone numbers, phone records of who they have called and when, and contact details for any contractors who would have carried out work at their houses.
Patrick Wintour in the Graundiad has an excellent article:
The Daily Telegraph last night refused to disclose whether, and how much, it had paid for the computer disk stolen from the parliamentary fees office that has been hawked around newspaper offices over the past month.
News of the disk first emerged in March, when Sir Stuart Bell, the Labour MP who sits on the House of Commons commission, said the information was being offered on Fleet Street with a £300,000 price tag. He also confirmed a hunt had been launched to find the mole.
"All of the receipts of 650-odd MPs, redacted [edited] and unredacted, are for sale at a price of £300,000, so I am told," he said. "The price is going up because of the interest in the subject."
Benedict Brogan, the paper's assistant editor, declined to say last night whether there had been a payment. However, it is widely accepted that a conduit operating across newspaper offices had recently been seeking over £150,000 for the full disk, which reveals every expense claim by every MP over the past four years.
It was suggested the middleman, acting on behalf of a source in the parliamentary fees office, was peddling the expenses of cabinet ministers for £10,000 each.
While papers including the Times and the Sun refused to pay for the disk, the Sunday Express published details of the expenses claim of the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, using the same conduit.
It was suggested the Express subsequently did not pay the conduit, believing they would not be sued by the source. That prompted a rethink by the conduit and newspapers were subsequently required to sign a stricter confidentiality agreement allowing them to look at the expenses claims, take notes but not publish until they had paid money. As a result newspapers last night had many stories ready to run.
Those that refused to publish did so because they thought the information was not worth the price, improperly sourced or would be too controversial politically.
Most newspaper sources believed they would not be challenged in court by an MP or parliament if they published in return for cash, arguing that publication would be seen as in the public interest.The details of expenses were due to be published by the parliament in July following a successful Freedom of Information Act claim.
The Telegraph, struggling to rebut criticism over its handling of the Damian McBride emails, will hope that its story will reestablish its reputation. Some had claimed the Telegraph had mishandled the McBride emails in which the former special adviser to Gordon Brown had tried to smear Conservative leaders. After being offered the emails by a source in return for money, the Telegraph did not publish the texts and instead ran a spoiler.
The paper said it had published the expenses claims because these specific claims were the most newsworthy and promised to reveal claims of every MP over the coming days, regardless of party. Brogan, when asked whether his paper had paid for the story, said : "One of the great rules of journalism is that you don't discuss your sources, so long as you establish the information is reliable and in the public interest."
Bell said: "If this was received by unauthorised means, it is disgraceful that a national newspaper should stoop so low as to buy information which will be in the public domain in July. It undermines the very basis of our democracy."