Files relating to a Home Office researcher’s attempts to investigate street grooming of children in the town by gangs of paedophiles were stolen from a locked council office – but no culprits can be identified, investigators have concluded.
An investigation was ordered into the theft of files after evidence about the incident was given to MPs by the researcher in 2014 in which she said an unknown individual had gained access to her office in the Risky Business youth project and removed all the data relating to her work with the Home Office in 2002.
Her computer records were also “impaired” in the incident.
The report found: “There is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support an assertion that an incident occurred involving the removal of files and/or impairment of computer records belonging to the former researcher.
“On the basis of our investigation and taking into account the circumstantial evidence available, our conclusion is that on the balance of probability it is likely files were removed from the Risky Business Office and computer records impaired.”
But the report added: “We have no information about who might have been the culprit(s), if files were removed and/or computer records impaired. We have found no evidence that would suggest any council officers referred to in this report were involved in the alleged incident.
“The work of Risky Business was gaining profile in 2002 and with what is known now about the exploitation of children, there might well have been strong motivation for individuals to prevent the information held in Risky Business files from being reported to statutory agencies.”
The report said the allegation had been first raised in 2002 as part of a grievance procedure but the grievance was withdrawn and the allegation not followed up.
Council officers interviewed as part of the new investigation “denied any knowledge of the alleged incident”.
The report added: “The council missed an opportunity to confirm at the time whether any removal of documents and/or impairment of computer files had occurred or not. In view of the significance of the matter, the council’s procedures should have led the council to look at the matter outside of the grievance. Not least, there should have been recognition of the potential loss of data, reportable under the Data Protection Act.”