Training company A4e has written to clients in Hull and Leicester following the loss of the details of over 24,000 people on a stolen laptop.

It claimed that the data lost 'did not contain any banking or credit information' and it advised that the risk of illegal use is low. The data was held on the personal computer of an A4e employee stolen in what police believe was an opportunistic domestic burglary.

This contained names, postcodes, dates of birth and any possible awards made by a court. The company is examining how its data security procedures were breached, to ensure such an incident does not occur again.

The Information Commissioner has been informed and the police investigation into the burglary is continuing.

Bob Martin, group chief executive of A4e, said: “We sincerely apologise to all those affected by this incident. It should not have happened. While we are advised that the risk to clients is low we are taking every precaution to ensure their interests are protected.”

Nick Lowe, Check Point's head of Western Europe sales, said: “Safeguarding personal data on easy targets such as laptops can't be left to chance. The security has to be applied automatically whenever the laptop is locked or shut down, so that users don't have to remember to apply it, and cannot work around it.

“But there's still some way to go, six months ago we found just 41 per cent of UK firms said they had encryption on their business laptops - which was the same as two years previously. So these breaches will keep happening.”