Vulnerable teens’ files left in abandoned school

Wellington School on the outskirts of Penicuik. Picture: Greg Macvean
Wellington School on the outskirts of Penicuik. Picture: Greg Macvean
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CONFIDENTIAL files containing sensitive information about scores of vulnerable teenagers have been left strewn around a mothballed special school after it was closed, the Evening News can reveal.

Birth certificates, offending records and social work case notes were abandoned at council-run Wellington Special School in Penicuik after the campus was shut down last month amid dwindling rolls.

The council has launched a full investigation into the blunder while the care watchdog vowed to grill education chiefs over the error, which was branded “very concerning”.

If fault is found, the city could face a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

It is understood many of records left behind stretch back decades with hundreds of former pupils potentially affected by the security lapse.

The council has admitted the data protection breach but said the school – which taught troubled 13 to 16-year-old boys – had been secured against trespassers and an immediate probe was launched as soon as the blunder came to light. The was failure was only exposed after council workers posted a series of damning messages on social media about personal files being discarded throughout the building.

One council employee posted: “I volunteered to go clean out an old residential school for troubled teens out in the countryside that was shut down, with confidential files abandoned by departing staff.”

A second wrote: “So I have spent the day cleaning out and sorting through files at a closed down residential school in the middle of nowhere.”

Councillors decided to close the school in 2013 after a series of reports from the school inspectorate. At the start of the past academic year the 154-year-old school had 17 day pupils and six boarders on its books. Just before it closed, it had just two students.

All pupils have now been transferred to Gorgie Mills Special School in Edinburgh.

Similar data breaches investigated by the ICO has seen a £100,000 fine given to Stockport Primary Care Trust in 2013 after patient records were found in an abandoned building. A £225,000 penalty was issued to Belfast Health and Care Trust after 100,000 patient and 15,000 staff records were found in a hospital.

A spokesman for the Care Inspectorate, the watchdog that oversees the residential portion of Wellington School, said: “The boarding element of the school cancelled its registration recently and we are very concerned to hear of this development.

“It is important the records of vulnerable young people are kept secure at all times, particular when a care service closes. We will raise this with the local authority.”

A spokesman for the council said: “As soon as we are aware of the state of the building we sent a senior team of Children & Families staff to the school to secure confidential documents and tidy up. We have launched an immediate investigation.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com