The Ministry of Justice has admitted to the loss of highly sensitive data after two discs containing information about police killings, related to three official inquiries currently taking place, were lost in the post.
The discs were found to be missing on 8 January and, despite an intensive search, have yet to be found. Half-a-million letters are said to be lost each week, with 400,000 being lost or stolen, never to be recovered, and 100,000 taking more than two weeks to reach their destination.
The loss of mail in the post puts into perspective the frowned-upon habit of uploading sensitive data to Dropbox or other cloud services.
The lost data includes information about the shootings of drug dealer Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by a police marksman; Azelle Rodney, who has been described as a “mid-level career criminal”, who was shot dead by armed police officers in April 2005; and, Robert Hamill, an Irish Catholic civilian who was beaten to death by a loyalist mob in 1997, over which there have been allegations of collusion by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to protect the perpetrators.
The posting of the discs is a breach of security guidelines and the Ministry of Justice has said that disciplinary action will be taken against the individuals responsible, with one member of staff already suspended. In a statement, the Ministry of Justice said that police have taken “necessary steps” to ensure the protection of any officers whose information could be disclosed. It added that there was no evidence that the loss was down to any “malicious intent”.
Originally, it was thought that the Ministry of Justice had just lost information relating to the Mark Duggan killing. The inquest into his death concluded earlier this month, with the jury reaching a verdict of lawful killing. However, the Crown Prosecution Service in July last year said that it would charge the officer responsible for the Azelle Rodney killing with murder.
It is not the first time that the Ministry of Justice has lost information in this way. In 2008, the lives of up to 5,000 prison staff were put at risk due to the loss of a disc containing staff names, dates of birth, addresses, national insurance numbers and prison service employee numbers.
A year earlier, it admitted losing laptops worth some £50,000, all of which may have contained sensitive information.
More recently, the Ministry has faced stiff fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office for sending data on discs, unencrypted – with staff declaring that they did not know that it needed to be switched on first.
HMRC, too, has been responsible for large-scale data losses, losing a disc containing details of 370,000 taxpayers in 2008.