Secret military papers that may have covered British forces' deployment in the Persian Gulf were stolen from a car in a London street but recovered by chance.
A member of Parliament expressed fears that the security blunder, disclosed Saturday night, might anger the United States.The defense ministry confirmed that classified documents had been stolen from the trunk of a ministry car parked at Acton in west London 12 days ago.
It said the documents, in a briefcase, were quickly found after being abandoned by whoever took them but it would not disclose their contents.
The Mail newspaper said Sunday they were believed to contain information that could have endangered British forces on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border if they had fallen into enemy hands.
They had been used at a briefing between Prime Minister John Major and Air Marshal Sir Patrick Hine, joint Commander-in-Chief of British Gulf forces, the paper said.
It added that "a major defense and diplomatic scandal was avoided only by chance" when a doctor out shopping spotted the briefcase containing the documents thrown on a pile of rubble.
Scotland Yard police headquarters would only say that a briefcase taken from a car in Acton Dec. 17 was found by a member of the public who realized its significance.
Neither police nor the defense ministry would say where the car was traveling to or from.
Newspapers said Hine was not with the vehicle, which had stopped and been left unnattended on a trip from London to Royal Air Force Strike Command headquarters at High Wycombe, west of the capital.
John McWilliam, a member of Parliament's defense committee, told the Sunday Express he thought the United States would be furious at what seemed to be a major breach in security.