Lifting the lid on the shady world of office politics

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WHEN Alison Halford - a former assistant chief constable with Merseyside police - won a European court case over her telephone being tapped at work she shed light on a murky world of office espionage. Ms Halford's pounds 10,000 award for breach of privacy revealed a growing trend of work colleagues bugging each other and even their bosses.

Staff are increasingly using bugging devices to catch out employees making prejudicial and derogatory remarks and co-workers who bad mouth them in private, according to surveillance experts. Firms employed to carry out office electronic sweeps for covert listening equipment are finding a growing number of bugs planted by members of staff.

Traditionally the devices have been used to flush out industrial espionage or internal fraud, but office workers appear to be increasingly willing to use covert surveillance to spy on each other.

The specialist company, Communications and Surveillance Systems, carries out office "sweeps" for hidden bugs about once a week.

Last month, CSS - a London based firm - found a bug on a telephone during an eight-hour sweep of an office. The company feared its secrets had either been lost to competitors or that someone from inside the office was defrauding it.

To find out who had planted the bug, a hidden video camera was pointed at the telephone. "Eventually, another member of staff appeared and removed the device from his colleague's phone," said William Parsons of CSS.

"Only afterwards, did we find out that he thought his colleague had been gossiping about him and wanted to know what was being said."

Bugs cost between pounds 200 to pounds 500 and can be hidden almost anywhere in the office - in the telephone, the computer or even in the fax. The devices are usually electronic transmitters that can be linked to a tape-recorder or computer.

Paranoia is the most common explanation, but people are also using devices to glean information about pay rises and whether they're going to be promoted or fired.

Surveillance equipment is also being used by employees to catch their bosses out. "One woman was suffering racial and sexual abuse from her employers," explained Peter Hewitt of the Counter Spy Shop in London. "So she put hidden tape recorders and bugs around her desk." She was able to gather enough evidence to take her employers to an industrial tribunal, but they agreed to pay her in an out-of-court settlement.

In another case, a man with a drugs problem, placed a bug in his boss' office in an attempt to make money through insider dealing to fund his habit.

undercover costs

Top secret: A UHF pen (pounds 650), calculator (pounds 595), and high UHF watch, a snip at pounds 1,200 Photograph: Emma Boam

UHF Telephone (pounds 475):

Fits into phone or socket.

Size: 20 by 30 by 8mm

Range: 1,000 metres

400 UHF Room (pounds 450): Sensitive and easy to hide.

Size: 27 by 65 by 23mm

Range: 1,000 metres

UHF Credit Card (pounds 650):

Hidden behind a credit card calculator. Size 85 by 55 by 3mm

Range: 1,000 metres

Splitter UHF (pounds 495):

Built into a phone socket splitter for crystal clear listening.

Range: 700 metres

UHF Adaptor (pounds 650):

Hidden in a standard working 13 Amp adaptor. Powered from the mains.

Range: 700 metres

Slimax Lighter Camera (pounds 395): A camera housed in a pocket lighter.