Treasury chief quiet on scandal

The Treasury and Revenue & Customs press offices have both refused to be drawn on how long they spent preparing a line on the loss of 25 million child benefit records that rocked the Government this week.

It is understood the data loss was identified one week before it was announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Steve Field started as head of comms at the Treasury on Wednesday – the day the story hit the newspapers. Field would not say how long the department had known about the crisis before the Chancellor’s announcement.

Revenue & Customs press officer Patrick O’Brien would only say: ‘There was planning before the announcement, as there always is before a major announcement.’

The Treasury had a team of nine press officers dealing with the story as PRWeek went to press. Of the 14-strong comms team at Revenue & Customs, only two staff – O’Brien and a senior press officer – were dedic­ated to handling enquiries relating to the story.

The Guardian’s political editor Patrick Wintour said: ‘This story will have come as a stunning shock. I would imagine that they were hoping someone discovered the discs before they had to make the announcement.’

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