Oliver Letwin's rubbish gaffe fuels Cameron's woes

LONDON Fri Oct 14, 2011 4:01pm BST

Government Policy minister Oliver Letwin speaks during a policy forum on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, October 5, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Government Policy minister Oliver Letwin speaks during a policy forum on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, October 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble

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LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron's government faced new embarrassment on Friday after a senior policy adviser was found to have thrown dozens of official papers into public rubbish bins.

Oliver Letwin, a Cabinet Office minister and policy chief in the Conservative Party, was photographed by a newspaper tossing more than 100 documents into bins during morning walks around a park close to parliament.

Cameron's party, which took power in a coalition in May 2010, is already under pressure over Defence Secretary Liam Fox and his links with a friend who worked as his unofficial adviser.

The Daily Mirror, which photographed Letwin over five days, said he threw away papers discussing Britain's involvement with the secret movement of suspected militants.

The tabloid newspaper, which supports the Labour Party, carried a front-page picture of Letwin apparently throwing papers into a bin.

Letwin admitted throwing the papers away but denied that any were sensitive.

"None of them of course were classified and none of them were papers that originated from government," he told the BBC.

"I was walking around dictating responses and simply wanted to make sure the pieces of paper were not weighing me down."

Cameron's spokeswoman said it was "clearly not a sensible way" to get rid of papers and Letwin had agreed to stop it. Letwin still had the prime minister's full support, she added.

MORNING STROLLS

Letwin was pictured walking out of the heavily policed back entrance of Cameron's Downing Street offices and strolling through St James's Park.

The documents were dated between July 27, 2010 and September 30, 2011 and contained correspondence with parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, the body which oversees Britain's spy agencies, the newspaper report said.

Others included references to the European Commission, Ministry of Defence, Home Office, Treasury and London's Metropolitan Police, it said.

Letwin had ripped some of the documents in half and handed others directly to a rubbish collector, the paper said. Some had details of people living in his parliamentary district of West Dorset.

Letwin's Labour counterpart wrote to Cabinet Office chief Gus O'Donnell to express his alarm at the dumping of the papers.

"He and rest of the Conservative-led government are treating the public and their constituents with contempt by handling sensitive correspondence in this cavalier way," Michael Dugher said in the letter.

The Cambridge-educated 55-year-old Letwin is one of the most senior figures in the Conservative Party and is responsible for co-ordinating government policy. He attends Cabinet meetings.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas)

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