West Midlands police has apologised after a notebook containing information on young people at risk from or associated with gangs was stolen from an unattended unmarked car.
The force said officers were involved in a foot chase in the Ladywood area of Birmingham on 29 May during which time the notebook was stolen from the car, though details about the incident have only now been released.
Formal letters were sent to people whose details were in the notebook offering them support, the police said, adding they have referred the incident to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The force said it believed the theft had not put anyone directly at risk, but community activist Bishop Desmond Jaddoo said families whose details were in the book, including the parents of a 14-year-old boy, have approached him saying they have been threatened. People have been purportedly told to “make funeral arrangements”, he claimed, leaving others in fear.
Danny Long, assistant chief constable, said an investigation was launched following the theft of the notebook, which contained “rough notes on operational policing matters”.
He said: “The notebook contained details of people assessed as being involved in, or vulnerable to, gang-related activities. We conducted a series of visits and sent formal letters to the people whose details were thought to be contained within the notebook, notifying them of the theft and offering support.”
Long, who said the force had yet to recover the notebook, added that the officer involved was “given management advice” and that the police were addressing their policies on the use, storage and destruction of sensitive information.
“We are very sorry that this information found its way into the public domain,” he said. “We manage highly sensitive information every day, which is vital in our fight against violent crime.
“We immediately put the relevant safeguarding in place and were open and transparent with the people who were involved. We did not feel it was appropriate to share this information any wider at the time, as that may have made the situation worse, or potentially put people at further risk.
“We will welcome the findings of the ICO report once completed and will take any recommendations on board.”
Jaddoo said in a letter lodging a formal complaint: “Clearly this is a serious breach and it has been noted that since this book has gone missing there has been an increase in violence. Families have advised me that they are living in fear, individuals have been contacted and, to paraphrase, ‘told to make funeral arrangements’.
“The actions of West Midlands police have placed many members of the black and Asian communities particularly in danger. It does question why WMP have not been up front in order to smoke out the perpetrators of this and to lessen their abilities to subject families to fear and terror.”
The incident comes three years after the force’s former assistant chief constable, Marcus Beale – a senior counterterrorism officer – was sacked after highly sensitive documents pertaining to live investigations were stolen from a locked briefcase in the boot of his car.