Private eyes convicted over 'blagging' personal data

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Media captionVoice recording of the blagger seeking information from a utility company

Two private investigators who tricked GP surgeries and utility firms into revealing people's private details have been convicted of breaking data laws.

Barry Spencer, 41, and Adrian Stanton, 40, were found guilty of conspiring to unlawfully obtain personal data at Isleworth Crown Court, west London.

It heard their firm, ICU Investigations Ltd, had made some 2,000 bogus phone calls to "blag" information.

Five men from the firm have already pleaded guilty to the same offence.

Robert Sparling, 38, Joel Jones, 43, Michael Sparling, 41, Neil Sturton, 43, and Lee Humphreys, 41, now face sentencing along with Mr Spencer and Mr Stanton on 24 January.

ICU Investigations Ltd, based in Feltham, west London, was also found guilty of breaching data laws.

Mr Spencer - the firm's director from Hook in Hampshire, and Mr Stanton, from Sunbury-on-Thames, who was linked to the firm - had been running a large-scale, illegal operation to "blag" personal data from companies, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said.

They had targeted organisations such as GP surgeries, hospitals, utility companies and the TV Licensing helpline - with some 2,000 offences committed between 1 April 2009 and 12 May 2010, the court heard.

It was told organisations were often duped into giving out the addresses and phone numbers of their patients or clients.

ICU Investigations had a number of clients across the UK, including housing associations, financial firms and even a local authority.

The clients hired them to trace individuals they wanted to contact, usually for debt recovery. There is no suggestion that any of the clients were aware that illegal means were being used.

Mr Spencer and Mr Stanton had denied they were aware of, authorised or advised upon the use of illegal means by individual investigators.

But they have been found guilty and were charged under the Data Protection Act - at the end of a three-week trial at Isleworth Crown Court in Hounslow.

The ICO said it served as a warning to other private investigators that they could not flout the law on personal data.