The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has fined Kent Police £100,000 for leaving sensitive documents, including tape recordings of suspect and witness interviews, in its old offices after it moved headquarters in 2009.
The ICO said the force left hundreds of key files in the basement of its old headquarters. These included information about police staff, as well as recorded interviews with informants, crime victims and criminals.
The tapes were discovered by the building's new owner, who purchased the site two months ago. The owner reportedly planned to watch the interview recordings "for entertainment".
ICO head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley said the inability of Kent Police to safely move or destroy the information was unacceptable and could have had dire consequences had the files fallen into the wrong hands.
"If this information had fallen into the wrong hands the impact on people's lives would have been enormous and damaging. These tapes and files included extremely sensitive and confidential information relating to individuals, many of whom had been involved in serious and violent crimes. How a police force could leave such information unattended in a basement for several years is difficult to understand," he said.
"Ultimately, this breach was a result of a clear lack of oversight, information governance and guidance from Kent Police, which led to sensitive information being abandoned. It is only good fortune that the mistake was uncovered when it was and the information hasn't fallen into the wrong hands."
A Kent Police spokesman told V3 the department is aware of the ICO's ruling and said the department has already taken appropriate action to secure the lost data.
"Since this was reported in 2012, Kent Police has reviewed its policies to ensure all documentation and files containing personal information are dealt with appropriately and in compliance with Data Protection legislation. In addition we have now implemented new procedures when vacating police premises," read the statement.
"After the discovery of the loss of data from the former police station, officers quickly retrieved and secured all documentation and property belonging to Kent Police. No sensitive information was lost or further disseminated."
Kent Police is one of many organisations to face the ICO's wrath in recent weeks. Recently it fined the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) £200,000 for poor management of sensitive data after a hacker gained access to its systems earlier this year.
The privacy watchdog also told V3 earlier this week it has begun investigating BT's data-handling processes on Monday after concerns that BT mishandled customers' data while migrating them to a new email system.
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