Teenage hacker 'enslaved by habit'

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A TEENAGER accused of hacking offences was a 'computerised nail-biter', enslaved by his addiction, a court was told yesterday.

Constance Bedworth, whose 19- year-old son Paul denies three conspiracy charges under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, told Southwark Crown Court that he first became interested in hacking before it was illegal. A friend from the local computer club loaned him a modem, which enabled him to use the telephone network to gain access to remote computers from his BBC microcomputer.

Ms Bedworth said she had no idea of her son's hacking activities until she received a telephone bill for nearly pounds 700 in May 1988. He paid most of this by saving his pocket money and the pounds 20 a week he earned on his paper round.

She said she found it almost impossible to persuade her son to stop computing, and eventually resorted to switching off the mains electricity in her home at Ilkley, West Yorkshire, to thwart him. 'I would wake up to find he had switched it back on again.'

Her son spent every waking hour on his computer and was often tired because he refused to stop computing late into the night. She said he pushed her out of his darkened attic room, and became increasingly withdrawn. She did not try to confiscate his computer because it was 'his entire identity. It would have been like cutting off a leg or an arm. I couldn't have done that to him'.

Ms Bedworth said her son knew what he was doing was illegal, after the advent of the Computer Misuse Act in August 1990.

Ian MacDonald, for the defence, said Mr Bedworth was 'rather lonely in his formative years. You are not dealing with some young tearaway or or a ram- raider or joyrider. But someone who is perhaps driven by his curiosity and the excitement he finds in computer hacking'. One reason Mr Bedworth would not be giving evidence was because of the ordeal of appearing in what had become 'a bit of a show trial'.

Mr MacDonald told jurors that they must convince themselves of the intent behind the charges, not simply that hacking had taken place. 'Paul Bedworth was obsessed, addicted, he just had to go on. He was so taken over by a compulsive need to be on-line that having those specific intents was the last thing on his mind. In fact his obsession or addiction was such that he was incapable of forming these specific intents.'

The trial is expected to continue today.