Last month it was the Daily Mail, and before this, the Government seemed to be constantly losing laptops with sensitive information stored on them, but now another British institution has got itself into deep water over a data loss.

The BBC has admitted that it has mislaid a memory stick containing the personal details of hundreds of children who had applied to take part in a TV show.

Around 250 children had asked to be part of Gastronauts, a food programme aimed at eight to 12-year-olds, and their details were stored on the memory device.

However, the USB pen has now gone missing - believed to have been stolen from a vehicle belonging to a member of staff at Objective Productions, the independent company making the show.

The BBC said there was "no evidence" the information had been misused.

BBC Children's controller Richard Deverell wrote to parents to explain the circumstances behind the loss.

"I offer you my sincere apologies and my assurances that we are taking all action possible to mitigate the consequences of this regrettable incident," he said.

Deverell has also told parents that they can call a free helpline if they had concerns about the lost data - which included names, addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers.

The BBC also took the measure of suspending new commissions from Objective Productions, which also produces Peep Show, when the incident was first discovered.

"We are now satisfied security of data is strong enough for production to resume," said a BBC spokesman.