PERSONAL information of more than 7,800 school children in Surrey and their parents or carers has gone missing after a laptop containing the files was stolen from a car.

The data, which includes names, addresses and contact details of children using the school transport service was provided to Surrey County Council's software contractor Trapeze.

The company stored the files on a laptop, which was stolen from a staff member's car on November 12 in a location outside of the county.

The staff member responsible for the breach in security has now been suspended by Trapeze while the company caries out its own internal investigation.

Much of the information that was lost is said to be encrypted but there are unencrypted files on the laptop that both the council and Trapeze refuse to release details on, claiming that they don't want the thieves to realise how valuable the information is.

Some sources speculate that health and medical details are included among the stolen files.

Surrey County Council said it has started contacting parents and carers affected by the loss and is in discussion with Trapeze about the potential breach of security.

A spokesman for the council said: "All the information, which included the names, addresses and contact details of children using the service and their parents or carers, was provided to the company using appropriate technical and security measures."

The employee for Trapeze was working on the council's community transport project, which provides transport for children who live some distance from their nearest school.

Many of those on the scheme are children who are disabled or require special needs.

One of the schools affected by the loss of information is The Abbey School in Farnham, a special needs secondary school for students with learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorders.

The majority of children at the school travel under the transport scheme and may have had their personal details leaked as a result of the information theft.

Headmaster Chris Gardiner told The Herald that despite being aware of the problem, the school does not consider it to be a risk.

"We have carried out our own assessment of the information that we've received from Surrey County Council and have determined that there is a very low risk," he said.

"Like any other special school in Surrey we don't really know what sort of information was on that laptop but most students in special schools do use the transport scheme because of the huge catchment areas that we have."

Trapeze has issued a statement saying that it "deeply regrets" the loss of the data entrusted to the company by the council and that the theft was reported immediately, with an investigation now underway.

Peter Bell, managing director of Trapeze, said: "We are conducting a rigorous internal enquiry to establish the facts surrounding the loss. Trapeze Group has established procedures in place on how personal data should be handled.

"At this time we believe that our current procedures were not followed and have suspended the member of staff concerned until our enquiry is concluded."