Police files found in car park

CONFIDENTIAL police documents - thought to include intelligence and surveillance reports - have been found abandoned in a car park, it has emerged.

CONFIDENTIAL police documents - thought to include intelligence and surveillance reports - have been found abandoned in a car park, it has emerged.

Two box files of paperwork due to be destroyed for security reasons were found by a passerby at about 9.30am yesterday in North Quay, Yarmouth.

One insider claimed the lost documents included potentially sensitive information although a spokesman confirmed the material was limited to out-of-date public order logs and records of premises where anti-social behaviour was thought to be a problem. The force moved to reassure the pubic that safety had not been compromised.

An employee of accountancy firm Lovewell Blake, which has an office nearby, made the discovery and contacted police before the information fell into the wrong hands.

But the incident exposes a potentially damaging security breach and officers have launched a top-level investigation.

Police spokesman Harry Mitchell said the force had established the documents were put in the wrong disposal bin by a member of staff at its nearby offices in Havenbridge House.

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It is thought that somebody broke into the secure bin, located outside the building, overnight and rifled through its contents before discarding the box files. It is not believed any of the paperwork is missing.

Mr Mitchell added: “We are currently carrying out an investigation into what has happened. At this time we believe this is an administrative error and are taking steps to ensure that all of our employees follow the correct procedures with regards to disposal of confidential waste.

“The public can be reassured that no policing operations have been compromised by this incident, nor has public safety.”

There was no sign of police activity at North Quay yesterday and staff at Lovewell Blake were tight-lipped. One employee said: “Nobody in this organisation will be making any comment about this.”

A former police officer said: “There is no doubt that there will be concern about this within the force. There are certain areas of police work where secrecy is absolutely vital.

“Fortunately it seems these boxes were found before it could do any harm. But there must be a worry that this could happen again.”

The error follows a string of national scandals in which secret records have been mislaid - and comes a year after details of murderers, rapists and paedophiles were accidentally posted to a business just two miles from Norfolk police's Wymondham headquarters.

On that occasion the Ministry of Justice was forced to launch an inquiry to discover how details intended for the police outlining prisoners from all over the country who were due to relocate to Norfolk ended up in the public domain.

Last year an investigation by Information Commissioner Richard Thomas found there had been almost 100 security breaches nationally reported to the privacy watchdog following the initial outcry over the child benefit data loss.

Two-thirds of these breaches were committed by government or other public sector bodies. The material included a wide range of personal details including health records. Mr Thomas described the number of incidents as “alarming”.

At the time he added: “The government, banks and other organisations need to regain the public's trust by being far more careful with people's personal information. Once again I urge business and public sector leaders to make data protection a priority in their organisations.”

Despite these comments coming in April, a number of other high profile breaches have since been reported across the country.