Police are investigating the discovery of a stolen Home Office laptop and confidential encrypted data disk in a Bolton computer repair shop.

The 'owner' of the stolen laptop claimed they bought it on eBay, after the PC was recovered by staff at Leapfrog Computers in Greater Manchester. The Home Office laptop had been taken to Leapfrog for a service, when technicians became suspicious of its provenance.

The Home Office today stressed that the disk was encrypted and that members of the public could not access its confidential contents.

A Home Office spokesman told the Press Association: "We understand that encrypted IT equipment has been handed to Greater Manchester Police.

"Investigations are now under way. It would be inappropriate to comment further."

Speaking to Sky News, Leapfrog's Lee Bevan said: "We put the disk in the drive to see what it was but it was encrypted. Actually, the disk had been hidden inside the computer itself.

"The police seized everything - and my staff and I were interviewed. Luckily, this disk has ended up in the right hands."

A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester Police said: "A laptop has been recovered. Inquiries are continuing."

In recent months there have been a spate of government data leaks, following the catastrophic loss of the records of 25 million people by HMRC.

Reacting to the news, Brian Spector, general manager of content protection group, Workshare said: "Nearly 500 government devices have gone missing since 2001, so it was only a matter of time before a confidential disc inadvertently ended up on eBay. Luckily, the public sector finally seems to be learning from repeated mistakes, as the laptop and disc were encrypted.

"Unfortunately accidents like this are not going to stop happening so we can only hope that other government departments follow the Home Office's lead and adopt full disk encryption. Technology that will easily safeguard such confidential data is readily available - the British public needs to know that the government is using it to ensure that all the information it holds on its citizens is secure and properly protected."

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