Keys were lost to whole fleet of police cars

(Justin Kernoghan)

The PSNI has admitted to losing the keys of an entire fleet of new cars with an estimated value of around £2.2 million.

It is understood the keys to 69 cars were lost at the PSNI’s sprawling Seapark complex where the vehicles were being stored before being fitted out with armoured protection.

The fleet of Skoda Octavia cars was purchased by the PSNI at an estimated cost of around £1.2m.

It is believed the force later invited tenders for a contract to armour the vehicles with a value of at least £1m.

Replacing that number of lost keys at commercial rates would cost as much as £17,000.

Asked about the disappearance of the keys yesterday afternoon, the PSNI said an investigation was underway.

However, a spokesman later revealed that the "sets of keys that were missing have since been located".

Originally manufactured in communist eastern Europe, Skoda cars are now favoured by the PSNI, as well as government ministers and many taxi drivers, and officers can often been seen cruising the north’s roads in them.

Located close to Carrickfergus in Co Antrim, Seapark is one of the PSNI's most secure facilities and is home to the Northern Ireland Forensic Science laboratory which carries out work on items recovered from crime scenes.

Thousands of sensitive documents relating to the Troubles are also held at the massive complex which is surrounded by a ring of steel and high-tech security equipment.

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said she is stunned that so many sets of keys could have disappeared.

"We are hearing far too often about evidence going missing and for so many keys to go missing is beyond belief," she said.

"Goodness knows there are enough civilian staff at a senior level that someone has to bear responsibility.

"There is a reasonable expectation that these things are going to be investigated and people are going to call for accountability for what people think is incompetence."