Lost by the government: 600 laptops, 400 phones – and a car

A MINISTERIAL limousine and almost 600 laptops are among more than £1.3 million of government items lost or stolen in the past decade, it emerged yesterday.

The car, worth 22,550, was taken from the Department for Education and crashed after being stolen. Westminster government sources were unable to shed further light on the incident, but it is likely to have involved a Toyota Prius.

Other items to have disappeared since Labour came to power in 1997 include a motorbike, laptops, mobile phones (including satellite phones and BlackBerries), a Victorian desk, numerous satellite navigation devices, a 10 wall clock, a toaster and 12 rolls of gaffer tape.

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The list of looted items of 591 laptops, 416 phones, 642 other pieces of computer equipment (such as discs and chips), and 520 miscellaneous items has emerged in written answers supplied to Mike Weir, the SNP MP for Angus.

It means that about 1,100 government laptops have now gone missing – officials admitted earlier this month that 503 had been lost by the Ministry of Defence since 1998. The MoD did not answer Mr Weir's request for information.

Mr Weir, the SNP's consumer affairs spokesman, said the revelations added to growing concerns about the government's handling of confidential data. Last summer, the records of 25 million Britons claiming child benefit went missing. Then, in January, an MoD laptop containing data on 600,000 people interested in joining the armed forces was lost in Birmingham.

Mr Weir said: "These figures reveal a shocking lack of security across UK government departments. Clearly, the loss of the child tax-credit data was just the latest in a long line of reckless disregard for computer security. To lose one laptop might be careless, but to lose 600 is simply unbelievable.

"We must have a top-level review of how government assets and data are handled. This should also sound the death knell of the government's ill-fated ID card scheme. If security is this lax, why on earth should anyone trust them with yet more information?"

The information provided to Mr Weir related to ten Whitehall departments, with health the worst offender after 234 laptops went missing.

The Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for Transport claimed it would be "too expensive" to collate the information.

The Scotland Office was not asked, but has previously admitted that one laptop went missing in 1999-2000.

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The motorbike, worth 1,644, was lost by the Department for International Development, though it did not declare when this happened.

Mr Weir added: "The question must be asked why, with this level of loss, action was not taken years ago to improve security and perhaps avoid the fiasco of the child-data loss.

"It is worth remembering that these discs have never been found. Government ministers must have known about this problem for years, yet took no effective action.

"That is a terrible indictment of the incompetence of this Labour administration."

The Department for Communities said none of the information on the 28 laptops it lost was classified.

The Department for the Environment – which lost the Victorian desk and gaffer tape as well as 122 laptops – said its computers had been outsourced to IBM since 2004 and the company had to bear the losses.