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.’