Home Office sacks company that lost personal details of thousands of criminals

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith

Jacqui Smith has terminated the contract of PA Consulting, the company which lost the personal details of thousands of criminals

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has sacked the Government contractor which lost the personal details of more than 100,000 of the country's most dangerous criminals.

PA Consulting was stripped of its £1.5million three-year contract for losing a computer 'memory stick' which contained the names, addresses and expected release dates of 84,000 prisoners in England.

It is believed to be the first time a private firm has been fired for losing data - despite a string of blunders across Whitehall.

But, while other contracts held by the firm are under review, it has yet to be stripped of its role in delivering the Government's hugely controversial ID cards project.

The data entrusted to PA Consulting - which has won Government contracts worth £240m since 2004 - had been sent to the company in encrypted form, but was downloaded on to the memory stick without such protection remaining in place.

Ms Smith, who came under ferocious political attack when the fiasco first emerged last month, said this was 'a clear breach of the robust terms of the contract covering security and data handling'.

The memory stick was left in an unlocked drawer in an unsecured office by a female 'analyst' at its offices in Victoria, central London.

Ms Smith said: 'The inquiry that we have carried out  suggests that the most likely thing to have happened was that the data stick was pilfered or lost.

She said all PA Consulting's contracts with the department - worth £8million a year - will be reviewed, along with those signed with other firms.

However, it was last night unclear whether PA's contracts with many other Government department's would be affected, or even reviewed, following the Home Office's decision.

Critics also seized on the fact it has not been sacked from the ID cards project, in which it holds a management consultancy contract.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This is latest in a long list of fiascos, based on Government's careless approach to data management.

'It is not good enough for the Home Secretary to claim that the clauses in the contract were robust, and pass the buck to a consultancy that her department hired and was responsible for supervising.

'These serial failures are the result of flawed ministerial strategy. It is high time the Home Office, as well as reviewing PA Consulting's ID cards contract, scrapped that reckless scheme altogether.'

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called for the company to lose all its Government contracts.

He said: 'This firm obviously has some serious procedural failures and therefore should not hold any contracts for any Government work. This means that PA Consulting should have their contract to work on the ID card scheme removed immediately.'

In the company's first public comment on the incident, a PA Consulting spokesman apologised for the data loss and said the firm accepted its 'responsibilities'.

He added: 'The loss of data on this project was caused by human failure, a single employee was in breach of PA's well-established information security processes. We deeply regret this human failure and apologise unreservedly to the Home Office.

'PA has conducted an examination of every one of our government and private sector projects that handle personal, sensitive or protectively marked material against recognised best practice and Government-approved processes.

'Our review has confirmed that, apart from in this isolated incident, we are fully compliant with robust policies and procedures and are achieving high levels of information assurance across all of our work.'

There have been a string of data losses across Whitehall in recent months. At the weekend, it emerged that another private contractor, EDS, mislaid a computer disc carrying personal details of thousands of employees of the National Offender Management Service.

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