Security conscious Whitehall falls foul of thieves

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Going to a car boot sale this weekend? It might be as well to look out for the increasingly popular designer label: "Property of HM Government".

Whitehall seems to be suffering from a crime wave of its own over the past year with anything portable vulnerable to illicit removal. Perhaps most embarrassing - and worrying for the security services - was the "theft or loss" of computer equipment from the Cabinet Office.

The Ministry of Defence Policy Agency, however, may also feel slightly shamefaced about the 10 truncheons purloined from the department together with several sets of handcuffs. Perhaps those with unusual sexual interests may find them of use.

At the Home Office, presided over by Michael Howard, celebrated for his "get tough" policy towards criminals, officials seem to have mislaid five vehicles, said to be worth pounds 47,200. It is the more unfortunate because the Home Office has recently embarked on a campaign against car crime.

Even the Crown Prosecution Service has not been spared the attentions of footpads and ne'er-do-wells. It has suffered 11 separate thefts of "personal and office items" and the cerebral Serious Fraud Office, apparently used to tracking down big-time criminals with brains, has been unable to trace the thief who has struck twice.

The Inland Revenue, to whom we entrust the efficient regulation of our tax affairs, seems to have "lost" pounds 460,000 worth of equipment and the Treasury, so parsimonious when it comes to spending money, has parted with nearly pounds 800,000 in stolen goods.

Ian McCartney, Labour's chief employment spokesman, says government departments have been deprived of equipment worth pounds 6m in the past year, none of which can be accounted for.

Mr McCartney, who unearthed the figure in parliamentary questions, said: "It is appalling that ministerial incompetence is allowing millions of pounds worth of government equipment to literally disappear. Small losses may be expected in any organisation, but when such huge amounts of equipment go missing, there is serious cause for concern."

One of the more interesting items boot-fair aficionados may encounter is the nose-cone of an aeroplane worth pounds 35,849 removed from the Royal Air Force Maintenance Group Defence Agency.