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Ministry of Justice data loss

News of the World - September 2008

This story revealed how a computer firm working for the Ministry of Justice lost data containing information on prison governors and guards.

Our whistleblower contacted us because they were concerned that this left the prison service vulnerable if the data disc fell into the wrong hands.

The whistleblower kept their anonymity and was paid a handsome fee for the story.

Read the full story below:

CRIMINAL

News of the World newspaper

THE lives of 5,000 prison staff have been put at risk in a new Government missing data scandal, the News of the World can reveal.

A computing firm working for Jack Straw's Ministry Of Justice has confessed to losing a portable hard-drive disk containing sensitive private information about jail governors and GUARDS.

The disk holds names, dates of birth, national insurance and prison service employee numbers. It is also believed to include addresses.

We can also reveal it was ONE YEAR before anyone at the firm, EDS, realised the disk had been lost.

It is feared the data on it could put prison staff at risk of revenge attacks or be used to target jail workers in corruption scams or escape plots.

Last night furious Justice Secretary Mr Straw told us: "I am extremely concerned about this missing data.

"I was informed of its loss at lunchtime by the News of the World and have ordered an urgent inquiry into the circumstances and the implications of the data loss and the level of risk involved. I have asked for a report as to why I was not informed as soon as my department became aware of this issue. My officials are also in touch with EDS. We take these matters extremely seriously."

A prison service source told us: "Senior staff have gone to great lengths to keep this quiet. There are criminals out there who would love to get their own back on guards and governors. This could give them all the details they need to take revenge.

"At its very worst we could see violent offenders knocking on the doors of guards and governors."

The blunder is revealed in a letter seen by the News of the World from the IT firm to the prison service, confessing it has lost the 500GB hard-drive.

It was shipped from its offices in Mitcheldean, Gloucs, for testing at its centre in Washington, Wearside, on July 20 last year. It was then moved to the company's base in Telford, Shrops.

It was only when a member of staff there went to use it on July 2 this year that it was found to be missing. Incredibly the letter—sent by David Willis of the EDS Security Team to Prison Service Accreditor Jim Hassan— goes on to suggest there may be little hope of finding the disk. It is not known how far up the hierarchy communication about the lost disk went.

But Mr Hassan's boss is Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service.

He should have been told about the loss of such sensitive information and he would be expected to tell the Justice Minister, including Mr Straw.

The prison whistleblower told us: "It gives crooks a huge leg-up in targeting prison officers to bring in illicit contraband, either by some gentle persuasion or by menace and threats.

"There's also a fear it could help any prisoner plotting an escape. They could threaten families unless the officer helps them out." The cock-up is the latest in a string of lost data incidents which have embarrassed the Government.

They range from the loss of details of 25million people who receive child benefits to top secret documents with the latest intelligence on Al Qaeda, and details of serious criminals.

The new scandal is a blow to Gordon Brown weeks ahead of the Labour conference many critics believe will be make-or-break for the Prime Minister with Labour 19 per cent behind the Tories in the polls.

Last night Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert said: "The records of prisoners have been lost already and now we discover that personal data about prison officers has gone too. When was this incompetent Government planning to own up to another data disaster, this time one which has put the security of thousands of its own employees at risk?

"And if, as they claim, they didn't know about it, who on earth is running this department?"