Cable 'sorry' for unsafe disposal of documents


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Indy Politics

Vince Cable was forced to issue an apology yesterday after confidential documents were put in transparent recycling bags and left outside his Richmond and Twickenham constituency office in bins.

It is the latest in a series of gaffes by the Business Secretary, who in 18 months of office has become something of a Jekyll and Hyde character, winning widespread respect for much of his work while also committing embarassing blunders.

Nor was this week's dumping of documents a one-off. A constituent started collecting the confidential papers from outside the office as long ago as February and kept adding to his hoard before handing them over to a paper.

Having taken "full responsibility" and notified the Information Commissioner's Office, Mr Cable admitted the error was an "unacceptable breach or privacy". He could now face a fine of up to £500,000 if he is found to have flouted data-protection rules – just a month after his Cabinet colleague Oliver Letwin apologised after putting confidential correspondence in a park bin.

Less than a year ago, the Business Secretary got into hot water with his Conservative Coalition partners after being caught out by reporters pretending to be constituents. They recorded conversations in which he "declared war on Rupert Murdoch" at a time when the media mogul was trying to buy up the parts of Sky he didn't already own.

Mr Cable kept his job but was stripped of his powers to refer the Sky takeover bid to the Competition Commission. Six months later he had the satisfaction of seeing the takeover bid derailed by the revelation News of the World reporters hacked into Milly Dowler's phone. Suddenly, Mr Cable looked more prescient than calamitous.

Less easy to recover from was his prevarication over university tuition fees. It was his task to oversee the tripling of fees yet he publicly voiced doubts about whether he would vote for the hike in Parliament.

More recently the Business Secretary was ticked off by the taxman and given a £500 penalty for failing to pay up to £25,000 in VAT. The error was described by No 10 as "an oversight".