'Peep Show' makers lose children's personal data

The BBC suspended all commissions from the production company behind the hit comedy Peep Show after a memory stick containing personal details of hundreds of children was stolen.

Information including the names, addresses, birthdates, phone numbers and holiday plans of more than 250 children who had applied to take part in Gastronauts, a new BBC1 series, was stolen from Objective Productions several weeks ago.

The company's other credits include Derren Brown's Trick of the Mind for Channel 4, The Real Hustle for BBC3, Ricky Gervais Meets..., and the new late night satirical programme Tonightly, also for Channel 4.

The BBC's children's controller, Richard Deverell, has written to the children's parents to inform them of the theft. "I am sorry to let you know Objective have informed us that a computer memory stick has gone missing," he wrote. "The memory stick is likely to have contained the information you gave. I know this situation may cause you some concern.

"I offer you my sincere apologies and my assurances that we are taking all action possible to mitigate the consequences of this regrettable incident." Mr Deverell also informed parents of a hotline number that they could call if they had lingering concerns about the data theft.

Gastronauts is an interactive programme that the BBC says aims to educate children about the way food is grown, made and marketed, "and will tell children how to stew worms, catch farts in jars, and bake toenail cakes".

The BBC tried to reassure parents that the data was unlikely to be abused. "This data was not lost by the BBC itself but stolen from an independent production company working for CBBC. However we took the issue very seriously," a spokesman said.

"There's absolutely no evidence this data has been misused and the measures we took were entirely precautionary."

The spokesman added that the corporation temporarily suspended commissions. "Whilst the independent company was responsible for this issue, we took it seriously. CBBC suspended new commissions and work on new programming until a full review of Objective's practices took place."

Last year, the BBC voluntarily suspended all new commissions from RDF, the production company responsible for the documentary A Year with the Queen, which included a trailer edited to suggest the Queen stormed out of a photoshoot with the photographer Annie Leibovitz.

The affair prompted the resignation of Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC1 and now director of television at ITV, and led to shares in RDF plummeting after ITV also suspendedall commissions.

Objective Productions was unavailable for comment when contacted yesterday.

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