Personal details of more than 16,000 residents were lost when a council’s computer memory stick went missing.

A series of data protection blunders by West Sussex County Council since 2008 have left the personal information of children and adults at risk.

Children’s case material, court records, and social care reports were among 60 breaches, caused mainly by the theft of laptops, Blackberrys and USB sticks.

There were also scores of breaches caused by human error.

In 2010, 16,400 people’s |personal details went missing after a council worker lost a USB stick.

The data was subsequently recovered and the council stresses that all victims were informed by letter. The employee escaped disciplinary action.

In 2009, the medical reports of children who were the |subject of child protection cases were left in a bag that was donated in error to a charity shop.

Five children were affected but their parents were not informed. In total the council lost the details of 16,540 people but the actual number could be much higher.

In at least nine breaches of data protection the council did not record the number of potential victims.

Victims In dozens of cases victims were not told that their personal details had been lost or stolen.

The Argus discovered the data breaches after sending a Freedom of Information request to the council.

In 2010 West Sussex County Council was criticised by the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) for showing a “poor regard” for protecting sensitive information, A council employee – who had not received proper data protection or IT security training – had lost information about an unreported number of children and families after an unencrypted laptop was stolen.

Yesterday a spokesman from West Sussex County council said: “The adults’ records never left the possession of the officer concerned, who had simply mislaid a USB stick among other work-related documents.

“The memory stick was found within a very short period of time, but as soon as it was reported as potentially lost, it was felt right that we should contact all service users by letter to advise them.

“West Sussex County Council does take data protection very seriously.

“All council laptops and USB memory sticks have been encrypted to protect the personal information they might hold, and staff are regularly reminded about the need to take all possible precautions against the loss or theft of IT equipment.”