By Lewis Smith
September 16, 2005
AN INTERNET pioneer who uncovered the e-mails that forced Dame Shirley
Porter to pay =A312.3 million to end the homes-for-votes scandal was
fined yesterday for hacking into the messages.
Clifford Stanford, the founder of Demon Internet, was plotting a
boardroom takeover of an electronic data firm and intercepted e-mails
to and from Dame Shirley's son, John.
The contents revealed that Dame Shirley had access to many millions of
pounds despite her claim to have assets of only =A3300,000 when faced
with a =A342 million surcharge for vote-rigging.
Details of the e-mails were passed to the media and Westminster City
Council. Soon after =A325 million of assets were frozen, Dame Shirley
offered to pay =A312.3 million to settle the case. Dame Shirley, as Tory
leader of Westminster council during the 1980s, had overseen the
selling of council homes in marginal wards to people thought likely to
vote Conservative, while the homeless were placed in asbestos-ridden
tower blocks in safe Labour wards.
Allegations of gerrymandering ended with an auditor ordering her and
fellow councillors to pay a =A331.6 million surcharge. That was upheld
by the House of Lords, but Dame Shirley maintained that she was too
poor to pay.
With interest and legal fees increasing the surcharge to
=A342 million, the dispute continued until her son's e-mails revealed
that she was offering to bankroll him. Stanford, however, had not set
out to find the truth about Dame Shirley's finances, but was spying on
her son to oust him from the board of Redbus, the data company.
When he saw Mr Porter's e-mails, he wrote to his accomplice: "Where do
we go from here? Do we try to blackmail him into resigning from the
board or do we go to the institutional shareholders or the press with
it?" The two men had set up Redbus together, with Stanford investing
much of the =A329 million he made from the sale of Demon.
In June 2002, after falling out with Mr Porter, Stanford resigned from
Redbus but kept his 30 per cent shareholding and began plotting a
return to the board. Software was installed that ensured Mr Porter's
e-mails were copied to an account set up by Stanford's accomplice,
George Liddell, a private investigator.
The electronic spying amounted to "unlawful and unauthorised
interception of electronic communications" under the Regulation of
Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000. Sarah Whitehouse, for the
prosecution, said: "A vast amount of information was copied to that
e-mail account, including information about John Porter and his family
and his bank account details."
Among the messages were "privileged legal documents", personal e-mails
and business memos. Mr Porter and fellow board members realised what
was happening only when details of a meeting was posted on a website
within 15 minutes.
Stanford and Liddell were cleared of conspiring to blackmail Dame
Shirley and her son, but both admitted unauthorised interception of
Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, who sentenced the men at Southwark Crown
Court in London yesterday, said that the offence was an unjustified
breach of confidentiality.
He gave them both a six-month suspended prison sentence and ordered
Stanford to pay a =A320,000 fine.
The judge said: "It is essential people, in whatever walks of life,
and, of course, those running important businesses, should know that
the integrity of their confidential communication should be
David Martin-Sperry, counsel for Liddell, said his client's decision
to take material to Westminster council's lawyers had benefited many
Helen McDowell, Stanford's solicitor, said that he would appeal.
WHAT'S BANNED AND WHAT'S NOT
Potentially lawful: looking over someone's shoulder to read e-mails
Definitely unlawful: hacking into a computer to read their e-mails
Potentially lawful: placing a bugging device near a telephone
Definitely unlawful: using a bugging device in a telephone handset
Potentially lawful: using a directional amplifier to listen to a
mobile phone conversation
Definitely unlawful: listening to the conversation by intercepting the
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California