The Guardian hit on an ingenious way to speed things up when searching through the MPs expense documents released last week in response to FoI requests: get the readers to do it (or “crowdsourcing,” if we’re being polite).
“Investigate your MP’s expenses,” the paper suggested on it’s hastily launched subsite, which features a bunch of tools for highlighting discrepencies:
We hope that many hands can make light work of the thousands of documents released by Parliament in relation to MPs’ expenses. We, and others – perhaps you? – are using these tools to review each document, decide whether it contains interesting information, and extract the key facts.
Some pages will be covering letters, or claim forms for office stationery. But somewhere in here is the receipt for a duck island. And who knows what else may turn up. If you find something which you think needs further attention, simply hit the button marked “investigate this!” and we’ll take a closer look.
Great idea! However, it would probaby have been wise to subject anything that cropped up through this process to rather more rigourous scrutiny than has actually been employed
One diligant Guardian website user, going by the name “Pigsaw,” spotted the followng in the expense documents for Adrian Bailey, MP for West Bromich West.
…along with a few other claims featuring similar payments.
Now, a big problem for anyone looking through these expense documents has been deciphering the handwriting. Pigsaw translated the above (and related other recipts) thus:
That much money on tanning does indeed sound like an extraordinary expediture for an MP to claim, and indeed it has not gone unremarked.
The following appeared on page 13 of the Guardian on Saturday:
What a scoop, eh?
Well, unfortunately not. This turned out to be just a case of poor handwrititng misleading people. Adrian Bailey has, as far as we’re aware, never been to a tanning salon. The text actually reads “Sandwell Training Centre,” a much more sensible-sounding establishment for an MP to be paying your money to.
Adrian wasn’t too pleased to learn about the Guardian’s mistake; speaking to the Express and Star he said:
“I almost fell off my chair when I saw it. It’s ridiculous anyway because I am so pale. My skin is so delicate I have to be very careful with it, and the doctors tell me I should wear sunscreen all the time.”
“This could potentially be very damaging. It is quite a prominent article and it is the sloppiest journalism I have ever seen. They have said something very serious about a Member of Parliament and there is no truth in it.
“I will be talking to my solicitors and I think The Guardian could have to pay out a lot of money for this.”