Car park company 'used ex-SAS men to spy on rival'

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THE CHIEF executive of Britain's largest car park firm hired security consultants who used former SAS soldiers to spy on a smaller 'upstart' rival with the intention of defrauding it, an Old Bailey jury was told yesterday.

The ex-soldiers, who are due to give evidence identified only by their initials to protect them, allegedly 'stole' information on behalf of National Car Parks by removing Europarks documents from files and photocopying them.

Directors of Europarks were said to have been followed to their homes where their dustbins were searched to obtain details of their bank accounts and credit cards.

When these techniques failed to provide adequate information, KAS, the security firm hired by NCP, infiltrated a former Army captain, Jane Turpin, into Europarks as a personal assistant to the managing director.

Yesterday, Simon Hewitt, 39, of Hammersmith, west London, who was in day-to-day control of KAS, denied deception by obtaining for Ms Turpin the chance to work for Europarks by pretending that her curriculum vitae was accurate and that she intended to work in the company's best interests. Ms Turpin denied the same offence, but last week the prosecution decided not to proceed against her because of her medical condition.

But Mr Hewitt and Gordon Layton, 59, of Regent's Park, central London, chief executive and deputy chairman of NCP, denied conspiring to defraud Europarks by dishonestly obtaining information concerning the company's financial affairs with the intention of using it for the benefit of NCP.

David Paget, for the prosecution, said Mr Layton was concerned about the success of Europarks. Fearing there might be a leak from NCP, he ordered a security review and a survey of Europarks' activities to find the reasons for its success.

Mr Layton contacted KAS, a firm set up by Sir David Stirling, founder of the SAS, and an introduction was made to a director, Ian Crook, a former Army colonel. It was agreed KAS would use a freelance security consultant, David Patterson, to evaluate NCP and Europarks to try to find how it was able to undercut its rival.

Mr Patterson, a former police officer in Zimbabwe, obtained a job interview with the directors of Europarks and decided from the meeting and other inquiries that its success was based on efficiency. He also said NCP was secure and urged the operation should end.

But Mr Paget said that Mr Crook ordered an ex-SAS soldier and others to get jobs as parking attendants with Europarks to find more information. The KAS employees followed Europarks directors to their homes where dustbins were rifled for clues to their business lives and personal affairs.

However, Mr Layton was not satisfied with the information and in early 1989 it was suggested that infiltration at a higher level was necessary. At this time Mr Hewitt took over the day-to-day running of KAS when Mr Crook went to South Africa, where he remains.

Several months later Mr Hewitt came into contact with Ms Turpin, 39, who had served in the Army for eight years, and decided that she would be ideal to infiltrate Europarks. On the strength of a letter and CV which completely omitted her Army service, she got a job with Europarks where she worked for four months, Mr Paget said. In that time she filed several reports, outlining figures and the inner workings of Europarks which were passed on to NCP.

Shortly after, Mr Hewitt was dismissed from KAS and contacted two journalists at the Sunday Times revealing all the information about the industrial espionage operation in an attempt to help his case.

But the newspaper published the information. The police began an investigation and Europarks sued NCP. NCP ultimately bought Europarks for pounds 4.3m and paid each of the four directors pounds 125,000 in compensation.

The trial continues today.