Stanford to appeal email intercept conviction

The founder of Demon and Redbus claims that he was forced to plead guilty because of a misinterpretation of the RIP Act

Clifford Stanford, founder of Demon and Redbus, is planning to launch an appeal after receiving a suspended prison sentence for illegally intercepting emails.

Stanford was sentenced on Thursday to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, for unlawfully intercepting and redirecting the emails of John Porter, former chairman of Redbus.

This is a landmark legal case as this is the first time anyone has been prosecuted for this offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), according to the defence counsel.

When asked how he could appeal as he had pleaded guilty, Stanford said "I'm appealing on two things. One is a point of law that I believe is erroneous. Two is the sentence. We think that I wasn't guilty, but I had to plead guilty because otherwise he [the judge] would have sent me to prison."

In a telephone interview, Stanford claimed that his involvement in the intercept was legal as someone "on the inside who had total permission to run the server put in a redirect".

Stanford said that he had sought informal legal advice before the redirect was set up, and that "seven top lawyers... thought that what I did was not illegal."

The appeal will hinge on Stanford's claim that the judge hearing his case had misinterpreted RIPA, under which he was charged. Stanford will attempt to defend his involvement in the interception of the emails under Section 1 subsection 6 of RIPA which states that a person is "excluded from criminal liability" if:

"(a) he is a person with a right to control the operation or the use of the system; or (b) he has the express or implied consent of such a person to make the interception."

This week's court case began with legal argument over whether Stanford had a valid defence to the charges. Stanford's lawyers entered a plea of guilty after the judge ruled that Stanford did not fall into either category of person defined by RIPA.

Stanford's argument against the judge's decision appears to be predominantly semantic. "He's tried to use the wording out of a previous case to understand what 'control' is," Stanford said.

Stanford said that the judge had taken 'control access' to mean 'permit or forbid' access, which he claims is incorrect. Stanford was adamant that this ruling was the only reason for his guilty plea.

It emerged during the trial that Stanford had hired a private investigator called George Liddell to gather information about John Porter after the two men fell out. Stanford, who resigned from Redbus in 2002, had hoped to win control of the company by forcing Porter to resign from the board.

The court also heard that a mirror rule had been set up on the Redbus server which sent a copy of all Porter's emails to a Hotmail account set up by Liddell. The intercepted emails, which were later leaked to the BBC, included details of Dame Porter's financial situation.

"I'm determined to prove my innocence in this case. I still believe I was innocent, and I'm determined to prove my innocence," said Stanford on Thursday.