Man `obsessed' with rubbish fined for Aitken papers theft

A WOULD-BE solicitor, who stole a law firm's rubbish and discovered confidential documents relating to the disgraced former Cabinet minister, Jonathan Aitken, was yesterday fined pounds 20.

During a number of night-time forays, Benjamin Pell, 35, who is said to suffer from an "obsession" with waste, packed his car with bin-liners left outside the central London offices of Harkavys. Disguised as a council cleaner, he left other bags in their place in a bid to escape detection, Blackfriars Crown Court in London was told. But staff became suspicious, set up a covert camera, caught him on film and contacted the police.

A search of his home inHendon, north London, found it full of bagged garbage.Among an estimated 200,000 documents was correspondence concerning the "personal and public difficulties" of Mr Aitken, who along with James Hewitt, was a client of the law firm.

The court heard that Pell, who admitted one count of theft last February, had been training to be a solicitor while indulging in his apparent need for garbage. Edward Brown, for the prosecution, said that papers were found at Pell's home relating to Mr Aitken's private, criminal and civil litigation, as well as matrimonial issues. Also found was a newspaper cutting, which showed that Pell was "interested" in the former minister. He said: "That information would have been valuable to somebody. There is no evidence that he sold the information to a publisher, but there is a very high likelihood that he would at least try."

Eamon Sherry, for the defence, said: "This is plainly a sad case because it is quite clear that Mr Pell has a debilitating illness and has plainly got an obsession with waste and rubbish."