Thefts and losses cost Whitehall pounds 1m a year

ROS WYNNE-JONES

Nearly pounds 5m worth of property has been lost or stolen from government departments in the last five years, including a consignment of Royal Navy rockets, computer chips and a horsebox.

New figures compiled from parliamentary answers show a four-fold increase in losses since 1991, with the value of property stolen or unaccounted for rising to at least pounds 4,941,409 this year.

Ian McCartney, Labour's employment spokesman, said he began an investigation into information technology losses after a tip off that thousands of pounds of computer equipment was missing from Whitehall.

"I believe there are criminal groups operating in or outside Whitehall," he said. "Equipment appears to be coming in the front entrance and going straight out the back door. The MoD doesn't even bother to keep records of central records on the loss of items worth less than pounds 100,000."

The Department of Health reported the theft of six items in 1991 worth pounds 7,460. In 1996, 350 items were stolen worth pounds 231,249. Serious Fraud Office equipment worth pounds 1,300 is currently "otherwise unaccounted for" and the Foreign Office reported pounds 85,000 worth of computer equipment stolen between 1994 and 1996.

Although computer technology appeared to be the biggest target for thieves, the prliamentary answers also revealed other major losses.

The Department of Trade and Industry had pounds 49,000 worth of chairs stolen, an "uninterruptable power supply" worth pounds 9,000 was stolen from the Treasury and the Home Office reported the loss of 23 heat lamps worth pounds 7,000 and a horsebox and its tools worth pounds 6,500.

The Home Office was unable to explain the circumstances surrounding the loss of the horsebox due to the unavailability of staff over the bank holiday, a spokeswoman said. The DTI were likewise unable to explain the theft of the chairs.

The Ministry of Defence said a consignment of three rockets, worth pounds 104,000, had been "lost" following the Gulf War. "We ran a six-month investigation into their whereabouts," a spokes-man said. "It was decided they were either lost en route home, or that they there were not missing at all and it was merely an accounting error."

Stressing that the rockets were not dangerous and were designed to distract other rockets from reaching their targets, the spokesman added: "We run a tight system and investigate anything lost worth more than pounds 150. However, we are a huge organisation with equipment in places as far-flung as Rwanda, Cambodia and Angola. When equipment is lost it might also be because it fell overboard during a storm."

The MoD also reported that a thermal imager worth pounds 118,000 was missing.

Mr McCartney, MP for Makerfield, Lancashire, stressed that the figures he had compiled gave only a selective view of Whitehall thefts, as they represented only the information given in parliamentary answers.

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