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Serious Fraud Office Fined After Lost Evidence Turns Up In Cannabis Factory

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been fined £180,000 after it sent thousands of confidential documents about BAE Systems to one of the investigation’s key witnesses. In the end the documents were found in a cannabis factory in East London.

This is the first time the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken action against the SFO. The Deputy Information Commissioner, David Smith, said that the public would be “quite rightly shocked” that details on 64 people were lost. These included passport details, bank account numbers and hospital invoices of those who had dealings with BAE Systems.

Mr Smith told the Press Association: “People will be quite rightly shocked that the Serious Fraud Office failed to keep the information of so many individuals connected to such a high-profile case secure. Given how high-profile this case was, and how sensitive the evidence being returned to witnesses potentially was, it is astounding that the SFO got this wrong.

“This was an easily preventable breach that does not reflect well on the organisation.”

When the documents finally showed up in a storage facility in East London, the then shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, claimed the facility had previously been used as a cannabis farm. The SFO said that the documents were sent to the wrong person by a “relatively inexperienced” temporary worker who was not fully supervised

The documents related to an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the evidence was sent to the wrong person once the case was closed. Despite frequent requests from the witness that received the documents, the SFO refused to take them back until a Parliamentary Question exposed the scandal.

A Serious Fraud Office spokeswoman said: “This fine was expected and relates to an incident that the SFO management discovered and reported to the Information Commissioner in 2013.

“The SFO took immediate action to recover the data and, following two independent reviews, substantially overhauled its procedures to ensure this mistake could not be made again.”

The SFO says it has since recovered 98 percent of the wayward documents.

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