A member of the public alerted the Daily Star to the leak, which covered files from the early 1980s to the end of 2017. After former Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind called for an inquiry, the Ministry of Defence has launched an official probe into the startling revelation. The information in the files included details of equipment held by security guards, the home address of one the guards, responsibilities of special police who patrol the base and a password to computer systems.
A Ministry spokesman has confirmed an inquiry is underway: “We take the protection of personal data very seriously and we have a range of procedures in place to do so, including complying with the Data Protection Act.
“We also expect third parties who legitimately hold our data to apply similar strict procedures.
“We can confirm that an investigation has been launched.”
The bin the papers were found in is located in a site popular for dumpster diving, where homeless people are known to rummage bins for food or things to sell.
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Mr Rifkind said: “You would have an inquiry in a situation like this, especially when there is a risk of this information falling into the hands of foreign powers or terrorists. This would automatically lead to an inquiry.”
Indeed, one intelligence expert has described the papers as a “terrorist’s dream”.
Meanwhile, a former police officer who worked with Porton Down explained: “This 100 percent could have ended catastrophically. Someone somewhere has not done their job.
“What could have happened is far worse than what did.”
Porton Down’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory was opened in March 1916 and occupies 7,000 acres of land.
The Ministry of Defence is currently headed by Penny Mordaunt who is also a naval reservist but her predecessor Gavin Williamson also faced criticism of suspect leaks.
Last January, Mr Williamson was accused of leaking intelligence by the Sunday Times after giving an interview where he claimed Russia could cause “thousands and thousands and thousands” of deaths with an attack on British energy supplies.
A MOD spokesman rejected the claims: “The Secretary of State did not release any classified material at any point during discussions with the media.”
Miss Mordaunt replaced him after the leaking of confidential information from a National Security Council meeting, Mr Williamson initially refused to resign but was sacked by Theresa May who said she had “compelling evidence” that Mr Williamson was responsible for the leak.
Mr Williamson denied the allegations and insisted a “through and formal inquiry” would have exonerated him.