Rotherham Council’s handling of the theft of 21 laptops belonging to children’s services staff made it “understandable that others have formed a view that the council has covered up the facts”, investigators have ruled.
The latops were taken from the council’s Norfolk House building in Rotherham on October 26, 2011 – with five of them found to contain personal data relating to children, adults and staff.
One of the laptops was reported to contain details of a child sexual exploitation case involving taxi drivers, with names, addresses and birth dates of victims and suspects, “plus some narrative about the events” contained on it.
Concerns about the theft were highlighted by Dame Louise Casey, inset, in her report into the council in February 2015.
The report said the laptops were not encrypted, with the data on them “fairly easily retrievable by anyone with reasonable ICT technical skills”.
The council and South Yorkshire Police decided not to inform those whose data had been stolen about what had happened and the incident was not reported to the Information Commissioner Office.
The ICO contacted the council about the incident after it was reported in the Rotherham Advertiser newspaper in February 2012.
The report said: “The council has not handled the matter well; it failed to take steps to secure the data lost, made a doubtful decision to not report the matter to the Information Commissioner and has been less than helpful in responding to ICO, press and public enquiries. Taken together, it is understandable that others have formed a view that the council has covered-up the facts.”
But it added: “The audit found no factually inaccurate statements made by the council.”
The report revealed no one has been identified in relation to the theft of the laptops – but police had investigated one suspect named in an anonymous letter, only to find no evidence against the person.
It said: “An anonymous letter has named an individual allegedly responsible for the theft of the laptops, however that individual had been investigated by the police under separate investigations and they are confident that the laptops are not present at his address.
“The named individual is not currently, nor has ever been, an employee of the council.”