In the 1980s, Tony Colston-Hayter was the floppy-haired “King of Acid”, the fresh-faced advocate of the emerging rave scene and feisty battler of tabloid critics who suggested his events were drug-fuelled dens of vice and sin.
With an eye for a headline – he once handcuffed himself to talkshow host Jonathan Ross – the entrepreneur, gambler and, according to his father, genius, was set to become the voice of a new generation.
Twenty-five years later – after taking “every kind of mind altering substance” – the former scourge of Middle England has lost his battle with the establishment, being jailed today for more than five-and-a-half years for heading a cyber-gang which plundered £1.25m from British banks.
Colston-Hayter played a “key operational role” at the head of the gang, which used a simple piece of kit to hijack computers at branches of Barclays and Santander to try to steal cash. Experts said that the audacious plot was a sign of a new wave of cyber-enabled crimes that pose a growing threat to the country.
Colston-Hayter first came to prominence in the 1980s for organising raves in aircraft hangers and scandalising the Home Counties. He had sought to evade licensing laws by hosting “private parties” for thousands of young party-goers, and lobbied the Government to change the law. He was supported by his friend Paul Staines, who went on to become the right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes.
He had been a successful businessman but his life took a wrong turn and Colston-Hayter started to abuse Class A drugs before he became involved in the bank fraud, Southwark Crown Court heard.
“I gather you’ve taken just about every kind of mind altering substance over the years,” said Judge Juliet May QC. Another member of the gang, a businessman, had also been brought low by addiction to crystal meth.
Prosecutors said the operation was a “sophisticated and organised” attack on the banking system in 2012 and 2013. The gang used a device known as a keyboard video mouse (KVM) switch to access and control Barclays and Santander bank accounts remotely on three occasions.
One of the group walked into a branch of Barclays in Swiss Cottage, north London, on 4 April last year, and gained access to the bank’s IT system. The gang used the Trojan horse-style KVM device to make 128 transfers worth £1,252,490 to a network of mule accounts set up to launder the stolen cash.
They struck again at another branch of Barclays three months later and stole £90,000. Two months after that they fitted a system to a computer at a branch of Santander in Surrey Quays, south-east London, in an attempt to steal substantial funds. But a police raid arrested 10 members of the gang in west London before they were able to take any money.
As well as the cyber attacks, the gang used around 500 stolen or intercepted bank and credit cards to go on expensive shopping sprees. They got the details by using a sophisticated device which “spoofed” genuine bank numbers, phoned customers and tricked them into handing over their personal details and pin numbers.
They used their ill-gotten gains to buy Rolex watches worth up to £30,000 each, expensive jewellery and iPads and computers.
The judge told Colston-Hayter that his sentence was cut because he had pleaded guilty to the plot. “There is no doubt in my mind that you played a key operational role in taking forward and implementing these plans,” she said
Another member of the gang, Lanre Mullins-Abudu, of Putney, south-west London, was jailed for eight years. Seven other members of the gang received sentences of up to six years in prison.