HIGHLY sensitive government records – containing the bank account details and addresses of Blackpool residents – were found dumped in an alleyway.
Hundreds of letters and documents detailing National Insurance and phone numbers, lists of benefits and even one man’s prison release dates, were discarded in a Department for Work and Pensions mail sack.
It was found – dumped on top of bin bags – in an alleyway off Erdington Road, central Blackpool.
An investigation was today underway after plumber Graham Aspinall spotted the sack and reported it to police.
Mr Aspinall, 51, from Ansdell Road, South Shore, said: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I opened the bag.
“This could have so easily fallen into the wrong hands and a criminal would have had an absolute field day with the information in here.
“I was dropping off an oil drum to a friend’s house when I saw it, you couldn’t miss the DWP in letters on the side.
“I’ve no idea how it got there, but I’m shocked this was left lying in the street.”
Blackpool Police said Mr Aspinall had done the right thing by taking the bag for safekeeping and notifying them as soon as possible.
The DWP today said an investigation had now been launched.
A spokesman said: “We take any loss of personal data very seriously.
“We have now successfully retrieved the documents in question and are carrying out a full investigation into this matter.”
But Sunday’s shock find has sparked widespread concern.
Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South said: “I will be writing a letter demanding the DWP conduct a full scale, urgent review of how this information came to be left on the street.
“It’s extremely concerning for members of the public to be told their most personal details have been compromised in this way.
“No Government department should be allowing sensitive information like this to be left where people could potentially use it for harm.”
Organisations who handle sensitive public information are bound by the terms of the Data Protection Act.
Those found not to be taking adequate precautions to protect data could find themselves slapped with a fine of up to £500,000 by the Information Commission’s Office.
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys added: “I’m sure many people will share my alarm that such sensitive personal information has been found.
“I hope the DWP will be able to offer an adequate explanation as to why it happened, and how they intend to ensure it never happens again”.
Coun Mary Smith, who is ward councillor for Bloomfield, said: “This is diabolical and how terrifying for people whose information has been left on the street.
“You hear so many cases of people who have had their identity stolen, this could have easily got into the wrong hands.”
The Information Commissioners Office, which oversees the protection of public data, has vowed to investigate the find.
A spokesman said: “We will be making inquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken.”