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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Newspaper targeted in 'evil' computer plot
Newspaper front pages
The Mail and Express are arch Fleet Street rivals
A "skilful, vindictive and dangerous" computer expert who plotted to cause chaos by hacking into the national newspaper he used to work for has been jailed for 18 months.

William Culbert planned to take revenge against the Daily Mail when he resigned following shift changes, London's Southwark Crown Court was told.

I am satisfied from everything I have seen and heard that you were planning to bring down the operations of one of the principal newspapers in this country

Judge Peter Fingret
The 55-year-old threatened to use his expert inside knowledge to hack into the newspaper's computers.

He wanted to force the paper off the streets for a week and disrupt its global printing operation.

But Culbert was caught out when he first approached rival Fleet Street newspaper the Daily Express.

He asked them to pay him 600,000 to carry out the scheme and fund his planned life on the run.

The Daily Mail's owners, Associated Newspapers Limited, could have lost more than 13 million in lost revenue and advertising had he succeeded.

'Practice run'

The plot still cost them 63,000 in new computer safeguards.

After approaching the Express, Culbert proved he was serious in a 'practice run' hacking, changing the month on one page from November to Novembre.

But police were already tracing Culbert - from Lancing, East Sussex - after they were alerted by Express production manager Paul Rudd.

Over three weeks Culbert's conversations were secretly monitored by Scotland Yard's computer crime unit until he had given away enough for officers to arrest him and foil the plot.

Culbert admitted two counts of making an unauthorised modification to a computer system and one offence of gaining unauthorised access to it in November and December last year.

He is an ill man who has been behaving out of character. He is not a sophisticated criminal

Brian Payne, defending
Passing sentence, Judge Peter Fingret said Culbert's crimes were "aggravated" by his desire to destroy the career of his ex-manager, his attempt to get a "substantial reward" from a rival newspaper and the "serious breach of trust" of his former employers.

"I am satisfied from everything I have seen and heard that you were planning to bring down the operations of one of the principle newspapers in this country.

"I am satisfied it was a carefully prepared plan to use your expertise and show that you could do the damage you claimed you could."

It was only through Mr Rudd's "public spiritedness" and his "probity in a tough commercial world" that the "evil plot came to light".

Careful plans

The judge told Culbert it was clear he had been troubled by shift changes and he may have had a depressive illness.

But there no evidence the consequences of such an illness would lead to such a carefully planned crime.

"It seems to me your approach to the Daily Express for large sums of money is not indicative of the mind of a person suffering from the irrational consequences of such an illness.

"Rather, it shows you were a skilful, vindictive and dangerous man and not, I emphasise, not a man with a vivid imagination," the judge added.

"Extremely bitter"

Timothy Cray, prosecuting, said the highly skilled Culbert knew the "nuts and bolts" of the Daily Mail's computer systems.

But he became "extremely bitter" after the shift changes left him with a two-hour night-time drive home.

Culbert boasted to the Express: "I have the knowledge and the access to take everything down and I can take it right down."

He claimed the effects would last a week or more "because they are not terribly efficient... they do not have a backup system".

High stakes

On another occasion he boasted he could "take out" print centres from Madrid to Orlando in Florida.

The stakes, said Mr Cray, were "remarkably high" with an "incalculable" loss for the Daily Mail in terms of reputation and circulation in the run up to Christmas and the millennium.

Brian Payne, defending, insisted: "He is not the monster he is being made out to be by the Crown."

"He is an ill man who has been behaving out of character. He is not a sophisticated criminal."

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