There was embarrassment for the government today as it confirmed that the whereabouts of Mr Coverdale, a career civil servant remained unknown after he was left on a train yesterday. The security breach occurred as a party of officials returned from a meeting on the 16:47 to London St Pancras, only to later realise that one of their contingent was missing.
‘It was the first time Mr Coverdale had ever been taken out of the office,’ said Gus O’Donnell, head of the UK civil service, ‘and we now accept this was a serious error of judgement. He was happiest in his natural environment – at his desk, among his papers, a spreadsheet open in front of him and a mug of Earl Grey at his side. I’ve ordered an urgent review of our social exposure policy.’
Under further questioning, however, a clearly embarrassed Mr O’Donnell was forced to admit that Mr Coverdale may not have been encrypted. It is now feared that if someone with the right training were able to get beyond the mundane exterior, it would be relatively easy to get information out of him – a view supported by colleagues who were talked out of consciousness at the recent Christmas party as Mr Coverdale recalled the Great Ring-Binder Shortage of 1983.
‘If there’s one chink in the terrorist’s armour,’ said shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling today, ‘it’s their slapdash administrative practices. The loss of Mr Coverdale, one of our brightest clerical stars, raises the worrying prospect that if he fell into the hands of a terrorist group, his paper-shuffling skills could be put to deadly effect. Al Qaeda have always struggled to recruit white, middle-aged administrators, and Mr Coverdale could be exactly what they’re looking for.’
The government was quick to play down the risk, however, and the security services have wasted no time in lowering the nation’s threat level. ‘We believe that the stringent administrative controls Mr Coverdale would bring to a terrorist group’s operations,’ said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today, ‘greatly reduces the likelihood of an imminent attack. From what we’ve heard, you’d never catch him releasing suicide bombers for a mission without all the relevant disclaimers being signed in triplicate. And with all the sub-committees and budget meetings Mr Coverdale is likely to insist on introducing, it seems that any 2012 Olympic terror bid is certain to come in past the deadline and over budget.’ The Home Secretary went on to say that further mislaying of officials had not been ruled out.