Appearing at Southwark Crown Court on 17 January, Adrian Kirby was sentenced to six months in prison. Atlantic Waste’s former marketing director Adam Share got three months.
Each had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause modification of computer equipment and conspiracy to intercept communications unlawfully at the same court last September - both contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977. They were both ordered to pay £2,173 compensation to BT and £6,500 in costs.
The court heard that Mr Kirby, from Haslemere, Surrey, hired a London-based detective agency in February 2004. At the time, Atlantic Waste ran two landfills near Peterborough: Kings Cliffe, a hazardous waste site, and Thornhaugh, mainly for non-hazardous waste but with one cell for non-reactive hazardous waste.
Over the winter of 2003/04, the Environment Agency received many complaints about odour from Kings Cliffe. Miranda Moore QC, prosecuting, said the Agency was concerned about inappropriate waste deposit and treatment at the site and decided to investigate compliance with its pollution prevention and control permit.
At a meeting of Atlantic Waste directors in early 2004, Mr Kirby raised concerns about break-ins and "arson attacks" at the site and said he suspected residents’ groups. The directors agreed to hire a detective agency to find out who was responsible.
On 12 February, Mr Kirby met employees of the detective agency and accepted their proposal to tap phones and hack into computers. It then hacked into residents’ computers by sending them emails with attachments purporting to contain the results of tests undertaken on waste from the landfill.
Mr Kirby also gave the company "targets" at the Environment Agency, Peterborough City Council and Northamptonshire County Council.
Communications between Mr Kirby and the detective agency were handled by the company’s marketing director Adam Share of Corby Glen, Lincolnshire.
Northamptonshire County Council was targeted because it had served a notice on the company about breaches of planning conditions at Kings Cliffe relating to noise and dust monitoring and control.
The council was also concerned about deposition of waste above the level allowed in the site’s planning permission.
In May 2004, the Environment Agency investigation revealed that several hundred thousand tonnes of waste had been deposited above agreed levels, while 160 tonnes of waste - some hazardous - had been dumped outside cells. Peterborough City Council was similarly concerned about waste being deposited above agreed contours at Thornhaugh.
An Agency investigation revealed the site had accepted 112,000 tonnes of waste more than allowed and the height of the waste threatened to make the landfill unstable. Atlantic Waste and Augean were made to pay nearly £90,000 in fines and costs last December (See ENDS Report 383, p 57 ).
Mr Kirby even ordered the detective agency to target one of Kings Cliffe’s former site managers after he met Environment Agency officers. Mr Kirby had convinced the former employee to wear a listening device for the meeting, but it failed to operate. According to Ms Moore QC, this made Mr Kirby suspicious that the man was in cahoots with the Agency.
Mr Kirby and Mr Share’s actions were uncovered by a police investigation into the detective agency. BT had discovered several "illegal intercepts" on its lines and used hidden cameras to catch the detective agency replacing them.
Mr Kirby and Mr Share were arrested in February 2005. When interviewed, Mr Kirby said he had hired the detective agency to investigate local lobby groups following the arson attacks. He admitted passing on intercepted-communications to his lawyers, but said they had been given to Atlantic Waste anonymously.
Both men were interviewed again five months later when Mr Share admitted receiving intercepted emails from the detective agency. He said he had thought the company’s actions had been "morally wrong, but not illegal."
Mr Share also "made it clear nothing would have been done without Mr Kirby’s involvement," said Ms Moore QC. Mr Kirby offered no further comment.
In mitigation, Mr Kelsey-Fry QC said that at the end of 2003 Mr Kirby had felt Atlantic Waste was "subject to excessive and unjustified attacks" by the Environment Agency. The officers regulating his sites appeared "so unreasonable" it was as if they had "a hidden agenda".
Atlantic Waste was also subject to "extreme hostility" from the local community, some of whom appeared "to be somewhat close" to Agency officials.
These views were fuelled by the detective agency, which, in an effort to prove its worth, made up emails between protesters and Environment Agency officers.
"All that material was designed to show there was a plan afoot to close down my client’s operations…and Environment Agency officers were involved," said Mr Kelsey-Fry QC.
The emails also named companies that were hoping to take over Atlantic Waste’s sites.
Mr Kirby’s actions were an attempt to expose this "perceived injustice and to identify those responsible for criminal conduct."
However, in sentencing, Judge Dodgson said there had been "no need" to target civil servants. "The obvious step would have been to involve the police."