Two men convicted of 'illegally blagging' personal data

Two private investigators have been found guilty of running an illegal "blagging" operation to get organisations to reveal personal data.

ICU Investigations Ltd made more than 2,000 bogus phone calls to GP surgeries, hospitals, utility companies and the TV Licensing helpline.

Call handlers were duped into disclosing addresses and phone numbers.

Director Barry Spencer, from Hampshire, and Adrian Stanton, of Surrey, denied breaching the Data Protection Act.

They were found guilty by a jury at Isleworth Crown Court of conspiring to illegally obtain data, without consent, between 1 April 2009 and 13 May 2010.

Their firm had a number of clients across the UK, including housing associations, financial firms and even a local authority, the three-week long trial heard.

The clients hired them to trace individuals they wanted to contact, usually for debt recovery.

'Blight the industry'

Callers from the firm tricked organisations into revealing personal data, often by claiming to be the individuals they were trying to trace.

There is no suggestion that any of the clients, which included Allianz Insurance PLC, Brighton and Hove Council, Leeds Building Society and Dee Valley Water, were aware that illegal means were being used.

Spencer, 41, of Hook Common in Hook, and 40-year-old Stanton, who was linked to the firm and of Vicarage Road, Sunbury-on-Thames, were charged following an investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

They had denied that they were aware of, authorised or advised upon the use of illegal means by individual investigators.

Damian Moran, ICO criminal investigations team manager, said: "Private investigators must learn they are not above the law.

"While the majority of private investigators go about their business in an honest manner, unscrupulous operators such as ICU Investigations Ltd taint the industry and blight the reputations of their counterparts.

"These men knew they were breaking the law, but did so anyway, presumably confident they would not be caught."

Five ex-employees of ICU Investigations, based in Feltham in west London, have already admitted conspiracy charges.

Robert Sparling, 38, Joel Jones, 43, Michael Sparling, 41, Neil Sturton, 43, and Lee Humphreys, 41 had worked for the firm either as self employed agents or employees.

All seven will be sentenced on 24 January.

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