Somerset

Bomb detectors similar to fake devices get patents in Romania, the BBC learns

  • 3 March 2014
  • From the section Somerset
Media captionThe device has a patent from the Romanian Patent Office

Bomb detectors similar to fake devices sold by a fraudulent Somerset businessman have been patented by a Romanian company, the BBC has learned.

Police say Mira Telecom had links to Jim McCormick, who was jailed for 10 years for fraud for selling devices modelled on novelty golf ball finders.

Paperwork linking it to McCormick's company ATSC surfaced in the Avon and Somerset police investigation.

Mira Telecom has so far refused to respond to the BBC's allegations.

Sales of £50m

The Bucharest-based firm, which specialises in security and telecoms, claims on its website to have received an EU grant to research the production of detection equipment for explosives and drugs.

Det Insp Ed Heath, from Avon and Somerset Police, worked on the fraud investigation which led to McCormick's conviction.

He said: "We uncovered a number of invoices and paperwork that linked ATSC to a Romanian company called Mira Telecom.

"And there were invoices for ADE devices and also for parts which help make up the ADE devices."

Mr Heath said it was "clear from the evidence" that Mira telecom and McCormick were "business associates".

McCormick, who was jailed in November 2013, is thought to have made £50m from sales of more than 7,000 of the bogus devices to countries, including Iraq.

During the trial, the court was told the detectors, which cost up to $40,000 (£27,000) each, were completely ineffectual and lacked any grounding in science.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption James McCormick was jailed for 10 years for fraud

McCormick had been a customer of Merriott Plastics, which made the components for his ADE-651 devices. The firm told the BBC McCormick had asked them to ship the parts to Romania.

The firm, located in Crewkerne in Somerset, had no cause to suspect McCormick - for them he was just another client.

Managing director Ian Lowe said his company was then contacted by police in 2010 after manufacturing some of the parts.

Mr Lowe said: "We'd produced about 6,500 sets of these parts and then the police came along and started their investigation into what looked like possible fraudulent activity at that point.

"So we didn't make any more after that. And then a while later we were asked by the customer, ATSC, to ship the tools to Romania."

Image copyright BBC Sport
Image caption Mira Telecom in Bucharest specialises in security and telecoms

The BBC production team travelled to Bucharest and spoke to the scientist involved in developing the device for Mira telecom.

Dr Marian Apostol, who is based at the Institute of Atomic Physics, is named on the patent for the new device.

He was also a defence witness, via video link, at McCormick's trial.

He told the court he had tested McCormick's device and said it had performed well.

Speaking to BBC Inside Out last month, he said: "I'm an expert in this field and I know what I'm talking about.

"Maybe I'm wrong but a scientific guy at the same level of competence like me should disprove me, not the BBC."

The BBC showed the patent for the new device to Dr Michael Sutherland, from Cambridge University, who was an expert witness for the prosecution at McCormick's trial.

Dr Sutherland said: "I've had a very close look at this patent and as far as I can tell it's exactly the same device, it just simply has a battery and a flashing LED light and an extra little bit of circuitry that allows it to generate some electromagnetic signals.

"Based on the physics behind this, I can't see any way that either this device [points at patent] or this device can work.

"There's just not enough strength in these signals to cause the antenna to swivel. It just can't happen."

Find out more on BBC Inside Out West, BBC One on Monday at 19:30 GMT. The programme will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.

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