The case of the lost Mark Duggan disc and a “faceless” civil servant

Information concerning three of the UK’s most sensitive inquiries has been lost in the post.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

It’s one of those Whitehall clichés. A civil servant leaves their briefcase full of weapons-grade government secrets on the train. Following the story of a bungling UK spy who did just that back in 2008 with documents on Iraq and al Qaeda, the legislative lost property tale has become a bit of a parable for government incompetence.

And now it’s happened again. This time, the Ministry of Justice appears to have lost some very important discs in the post containing information about three of the UK’s current most sensitive inquiries: the role of the police in the deaths of Robert Hamill, Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan. The latter is the most recent case; the fatal police shooting in 2011 sparked the London riots.

The department admits that the documents went missing in the post, and have been lost since early January this year: “Immediate steps were taken, including intensive searches to locate the discs. These searches continue, with police assistance. The discs have not, as yet, been found.”

The shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan accuses the department of “an appalling lapse in security”, adding, “the Justice Secretary needs to get an urgent grip on this situation and set out what the government is doing to find this data and reassure the public that measures are in place to prevent it happening again”.

And it is not the first time the MoJ has been involved in such a case. Two years ago, it lost confidential prison data and was later fined £180,000 for its failings.

But I hear from a Labour justice team insider that it is “actually very difficult” to accuse “Grayling of having lost control of his department” in this instance. They warn: “With a case like this, it's a faceless civil servant who loses his job. It’s a case of some silly mug losing a CD. That's all anyone knows has happened, so you can't just attack the ministers.”

And a Westminster source calls this row over the missing discs “ridiculous and bizarre”, because neither the government nor its detractors have managed to get to the bottom of the story yet, in spite of investigating the situation since the beginning of January.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.