COUNCIL chiefs say security was not breached when a computer memory stick containing the personal details of thousands of vulnerable pensioners was lost.

Clients of Durham County Council’s Care Connect warden service have been advised to set a new code on their key safe after the data went missing a few months ago.

The information is thought to also include burglar alarm codes, details of medication and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of relatives.

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About 3,600 pensioners across the county have been affected but Durham County Council says there is no danger of criminals accessing the data because it was encrypted.

Key safes are secure places to keep house keys that can be used by care wardens to get into a house if the occupier is taken ill or has a fall. They are opened with an access code.

However, the relative of one pensioner on Care Connect said he was told the data was unencrypted and was lost when it was being taken between computer centres at Chilton, near Ferryhill, and Stanley.

The relative told The Northern Echo that he spoke to council staff after his parent received a council letter advising that the key safe code be changed. The letter, seen by The Northern Echo, does not mention the memory stick being lost .

Instead it says: “The reason for this (the code change) exercise is to ensure that the key safe code remains secure, as Durham County Council have a policy for the management of the security of the code.”

The relative said a council employee said that the stick disappeared some months ago during a regular data backing-up exercise.

He said: “When I finally discovered what had happened I was horrified.

“Instead of being honest and transparent they have tried to sweep it under the carpet and bluff their way through it.

“There are obvious security implications . There is a gold mine of information there if it gets into the wrong hands.

But Adrian White, the council’s head of contract services, said: “I would like to reassure everyone who uses the Care Connect service that there is absolutely no cause to be concerned. “The memory stick was fully encrypted, in line with government data protection guidance, to ensure that anyone outside the service would not be able to access the records.”