Former newspaper employee jailed for 'evil plot' to sabotage its rival

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A bitter former employee who hatched an "evil plot" to force the Daily Mail off the streets by hacking into its computers was jailed for 18 months yesterday.

A bitter former employee who hatched an "evil plot" to force the Daily Mail off the streets by hacking into its computers was jailed for 18 months yesterday.

William Culbert, 55, planned to use his expertise to close down the national newspaper for a week, a move that would have cost Associated Newspapers Limited - also owners of the Evening Standard, The Mail on Sunday and Metro - £13.4m.

Yesterday Judge Fingret praised the Daily Express staff's "proberty in a tough commercial world" for promptly contacting police when Culbert approached them with an offer to sabotage their rival.

Southwark Crown Court was told that Culbert, who left the Mail in 1998 after nine years, had been bent on revenge because he felt he had no option but to resign when shifts were changed. Using a false name, the former print technician approached the Express last November, and offered to enact his plan for £600,000.

To prove he was telling the truth, he did a practice run, invading the Mail's computer system and changing the month on one page from November to the French Novembre.

The Express's production editor, Paul Rudd, promptly contacted Scotland Yard's computer crime unit to report the intended "industrial sabotage". Over the next three weeks Culbert's conversations were covertly recorded as he let slip identification details.

Passing sentence, Judge Fingret told Culbert, of Lancing, East Sussex, that his crimes were not only "aggravated" by his desire to destroy the career of his former line manager, but by his bid to get a "substantial reward from a rival newspaper". It was only because of the "public spiritedness" of Mr Rudd and his colleagues, he said, "that your evil plot came to light". The judge went on: "It is quite clear that you were troubled by your change in work shift patterns and it is suggested that you had and have a depressive illness.

"It seems to me your approach to the Daily Express for large sums of money is not indicative of the mind of a person suffering from the irrational consequences of such an illness. Rather, it shows you were a skilful, vindictive and dangerous man and not, I emphasise, not a man with a vivid imagination," the judge added.

Culbert admitted two counts of making an unauthorised modification to a computer system and one offence of gaining unauthorised access to it .

The court was told that once the police had discovered who Culbert was, they decided to delay his arrest until they had learnt how he planned to carry out his threat, so they could prevent such sabotage in the future.

Brian Payne, for the defence, said: "He is not the monsterhe is being made out to be by the Crown. He is an ill man who has been behaving out of character. He is not a sophisticated criminal."

Afterwards the judge observed: "It is unusual to commend members of the public for their part in the detection of crime that doesn't involve acts of bravery, but I do wish to commend Mr Rudd for his actions and for his proberty in a tough commercial world."