The secretary of state for communities and local government, Hazel Blears, may face a police investigation for breaching the 1989 Official Secrets Act, following the theft of a laptop from her constituency office in Salford.

The laptop was stolen following a break-in at the office and contained a number of sensitive documents, including one relating to the housing market, which had been emailed from her ministerial office. However, it is believed the documents did not contain any information that could compromise national security.

Ministers are allowed to use secure government laptops to access sensitive documents remotely but it is thought that Blear's computer was not equipped with the correct level of security.

"It is clear that papers have been sent to Hazel Blears in a way that is not fully consistent with the departmental guidance," said her department's top civil servant, Peter Housden.

"Thankfully, no damage has been done since the documents sent to her were not classified as secret or top secret. I have instructed my officials that departmental procedures, guidance, and the awareness and accessibility of that guidance, are now strengthened to ensure this does not happen again,” he added.

The incident is just one in a number of recent government security breaches that has seen the personal data of millions of UK residents fall into the wrong hands. It has even resulted in a proposal to amend the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to make data loss a criminal offence.

Greg Day, security analyst at McAfee, said: "In the wake of yet another public sector security incident, there is a need for all organisations, including the government, to assess security policies as data is clearly becoming a key target for criminals."

"A recent survey by McAfee found that the majority of public sector workers ignore security policies so one should take this into consideration and make it mandatory that information is secured. To avoid future embarrassment the government needs to deploy adequate tools to mitigate the risk," he added.

See also: Reporting of security breaches should be mandatory