Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Millionaire jailed in spying case

Computer user
The agency accessed medical and bank records

A millionaire has been jailed for six months for hiring a detective agency to tap phones and hack into computers.

Adrian Kirby, from Haslemere, Surrey, who has made 65m from waste disposal, wanted to stop complaints about alleged illegal dumping.

The 47-year-old asked the London-based agency to spy on staff at Northamptonshire County Council and Peterborough local authority.

Also jailed at Southwark Crown Court were several other agency customers.

Among them was businessman Anthony Waters, who paid for his estranged wife's laptop to be hacked into during acrimonious divorce proceedings.

He was jailed for four months.

Hi-tech snooping

The detective agency's former "telephone interception specialist" Michael Hall was sentenced to 12 months in jail, and his former colleague Stuart Dowling, who made some of the tapping devices, was sentenced to nine months in prison.

All variously admitted conspiring to intercept illegal communications, plotting to make unauthorised modifications to a computer, false accounting and criminal damage to British Telecom property.

Altogether hundreds of telephone lines were compromised by the company which used an array of illegal hi-tech snooping equipment to re-route and record conversations.

Personal banking information and medical records were available to customers for thousands of pounds at a time.

Just as handlers would not exist without thieves so this agency would not have provided the services they did without a market for them
Judge Paul Dodgson

Miranda Moore, prosecuting, told the court the downfall of the agency - which cannot be named for legal reasons - began when a serving police officer, supposedly off sick with depression, was effectively found working for them full time.

Then, in 2003, complaints from British Telecom customers all over Britain about unexpectedly high bills led to the discovery of hundreds of "local landline intercepts".

Passing sentence, Judge Paul Dodgson said while those who worked for the agency were "essential" to its legal activities, the company's customers were also vital.

"Just as handlers would not exist without thieves so this agency would not have provided the services they did without a market for them," he said.

"The sentences I pass must carry a message of deterrent to others."

Dealing with Kirby, the judge said he was so "hostile" to perceived opponents he was prepared to pay the agency 47,000 to hack into computers and tap telephones.

As well as targeting the local authority employees, Kirby, the head of Atlantic Waste Holdings at the time, spied on three local residents and a site manager he suspected of helping investigate his activities.

The judge also ordered him to pay 2,173 compensation to British Telecom and prosecution costs of 6,500.

23 July 2008. Note: Since this article was published Adrian Kirby has pointed out that neither he nor Atlantic Waste have ever been charged with or prosecuted for illegal dumping.

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