Firm searched for missing discs
Police are searching buildings belonging to courier firm TNT in the hunt for the missing computer discs at the centre of a massive political row as it emerged that another six discs have vanished.
Scotland Yard confirmed that the search of the HM Revenue and Customs child benefit office in Washington, Tyne and Wear, from which the discs were sent, was completed without finding any trace of the missing package.
But HMRC said that all the evidence pointed towards the discs - which contain personal details of 25 million child benefit claimants - still being on their premises.
The department also confirmed it was looking for another lost package containing six discs which went missing in the post after being sent on October 10 from a tax credit office in Preston to its Whitehall HQ in London.
These discs held recordings of phone conversations between an individual tax credit claimant and an HMRC helpline, which were despatched through an internal mail system operated by TNT - the same courier service used to send the two child benefit discs from Washington to London last month.
Neither TNT nor Scotland Yard would confirm the locations of premises being searched by police. The company has a depot at Houghton le Spring, Tyne and Wear, not far from HMRC's Washington child benefit offices.
A TNT spokesman said the company was co-operating fully with the police investigation ordered by Chancellor Alistair Darling on November 15, five days after he was informed of the discs' disappearance.
But the company stressed that, as HMRC did not use track-and-trace services for the mailing, there was no way of proving whether or not the package ever entered its system.
"We have been given absolutely no proof either from HMRC or from the police that these discs ever entered the TNT system, let alone that we have mislaid them," said a company spokesman. "HMRC confirmed to us last night that they use two other companies for internal mail."
An HMRC spokesman confirmed that the agency used other courier services, but declined to identify them. The hunt for the missing discs was "wide-ranging and comprehensive" and would look into every aspect of where they could be, he said, adding: "All the evidence points to the fact that these discs are still on our premises."
I will tell you a story on another posting about Data Protection, etc, which you might find interesting - and worrying.