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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Westminster and Public Services Suffer Crime Waves

Westminster and Public Services Suffer Crime Waves

 Everything ‘owned’ by government is really owned by the taxpayers. However, some take it quite literally and think they can walk away with public assets.
Laptops Most Stolen Items from Government

People have long stolen from work places. They take stationery, use computers and phones free, and steal time too. Many regard it as harmless, ‘victimless’ crime. Have we crossed a line into a belief that public theft is somehow acceptable?

The 2011 English riots saw organised gangs of criminals stealing and damaging. Schools, hospitals, council offices and depots regularly suffer pilfering from a minority of staff and visitors. When the 2008 recession began there were reports of school students recharging their mobiles in classroom sockets, at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s not a new phenomenon. By the end of the last world war, thousands of troops took souvenirs from places they were liberating, bodies they were passing. Organisations and companies today are plagued with regular petty pilfering with occasional outbursts on an industrial scale.

Losses from Government

In March 2011, Tom McTague reported in the Daily Mirror, that ‘dozens of laptops, mobile phones and even an official vehicle have gone missing from Whitehall departments’. He said the Health Department had things valued at £13,00 stolen from £100,000 worth of missing items.

The Ministry of Defence had £700,000 worth of items taken, including a clarinet, an anchor, body armour, ration packs, pistols, boots, £50,000 night-vision glasses and a plane fuselage. These figures were expanded by Nick Hopkins in The Guardian in April 2011, where he quoted Luciana Berger the MP who’d demanded the figures in Parliament saying: ‘enough military equipment was stolen to launch a small coup’.

A silver statue valued at £25,000 walked from Household Cavalry barracks in Knightsbridge, £7000 of cutlery from Edinburgh’s Redford barracks along with a Bedford truck, an industrial washing machine, an inflatable boat and a £50,000 helicopter rotor tuner.

All this despite military police, security and the open eyes of thousands of personnel on bases. Police have had some success in catching perpetrators and retrieving resources. Thieves include servicemen and women, civil servants, outsiders and civilian contractors. All sorts of people are at it.

Losses from Agencies

A summary of recent losses from and by politicians, spies, office staff and military officials was published by Andy Bloxham in the Daily Telegraph, October 2011. They ranged from the 1990 loss of a laptop from a car boot in London with plans for first Gulf War; the 2000 theft of a laptop from home of Armed Forces Minister John Spellar responsible for nuclear secrets and Northern Ireland and the MI6 officer who left a laptop in a taxi.

An MI5 staffer saw his laptop snatched at Paddington station when he helped someone buy a ticket; Army laptop with 500 people’s data was stolen in 2005 and a Royal Navy one in 2006. HMRC (2007) losing two unencrypted computer disks in the ordinary post with personal details of 25 million citizens is possibly the worst case.

And so it’s gone on. Laptops, disks missing, forgotten, laid down in stupid places. Names, addresses, sensitive details of millions vanished, their potential value to criminals, drug dealers, blackmailers and terrorists, billions of pounds.

In October 2011, it was announced that GCHQ, the government listening department, has lost £1 million worth of sensitive equipment. They announced a tightening of security working closely with the National Audit Office to ‘eliminate waste’. Observers remarked on horses, bolting and stable doors coming to mind.

Losses from Westminster

Parliament’s own website publishes losses. They include cash, computers and laptops, stationery, keys, phones and a passport. These thefts are running at the rate of two computers a month in the past year, with ten in May alone.

The Palace of Westminster is the most guarded public building in London, but it seems that the brass neck of thieves is what wins the day. Villains who walk into places dressed as workers/repairers carrying clipboards, smooth-talking con-artists with plausible explanations have successfully lifted paintings from galleries, trailers from trucks, fittings from palaces and possessions from people all over the world.

For example beyond Westminster, Nick Lavigueur reported in September that thieves in Huddersfield took a break while ripping copper wire from Costa Coffee’s air conditioning to enjoy McDonalds’ burgers. It isn’t known if they took them in or went over the road for them. In 2009 in the same town, brazen thieves stole lead in broad daylight from shops just 100 yards from the Police Station.

The audacious theft of copper and other precious metals from live installations has now reached epidemic levels because of the value of metals. Risking life and limb and inconveniencing thousands in power cuts, makes no difference.

It’s more than simply using expense-abuse MPs as role-model public purse thieves; it’s more than opportunism when an official is careless. Thieves seem to think they have a right to take from what is owned publically.

Interestingly, security at Westminster is better at stopping things entering than goods leaving. It didn’t stop a purple powder-filled condom getting in for throwing at Tony Blair, nor a foam pie to push on Rupert Murdoch. But figures reveal that between January 2009 and September 2011, they found and seized knuckledusters, a cosh, a truncheon, an imitation gun and a meat cleaver!


  • Daily Mirror, Tom McTague, Thousands of pounds of gear stolen from the Government. 26 March 2011. Web 14 October 2011.
  • The Guardian, Nick Hopkins, 10 April 2011. Stolen MoD equipment enough for small coup, says MP. Web 14 October 2011.
  • Parliament, Items reported stolen in the House of Commons 2011. Web 14 October 2011.
  • The Daily Telegraph, Andy Bloxham, History of recent data blunders by government, 14 October 2011. Web 15 October 2011.
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner, NIck Lavigueuer, 15 September 2011. Web 15 October 2011.
First published on Suite 101, 16 October 2011

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