|Jeremy Clifford, 51, from Watford, was arrested in 2003 as part of Operation Ore, Britain's biggest ever computer crime investigation. The nationwide swoop targeted thousands of people whose credit card details were found in a database taken from a network of child pornography websites in America. |
A computer expert found no evidence to prosecute Mr Clifford, but Hertfordshire police charged him anyway.
Yesterday a judge at the High Court ruled that Det Con Brian Hopkins had “no honest belief” that Mr Clifford had downloaded indecent images of children, and brought charges “to protect his own position”.
Mr Clifford, who lost his film equipment business as a result of the allegation against him, was awarded damages of £20,000 and costs which a police spokesman said will run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Hertfordshire Constabulary was criticised by Mr Clifford's solicitors for the way it defended his claim of malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office.
“In my opinion it is an absolute disgrace that the police have been allowed to spend huge sums of public money recklessly and without apparent check or merit attacking Mr Clifford, in order to deflect from their own shortcomings,” said Andre Clovis of Tuckers Solicitors.
“This course of conduct caused costs to escalate. There appears to be no control mechanism over police spending in such circumstances, but this does not mean that the Chief Constable and his legal department should not be called to account for their actions.”
The court heard that Mr Clifford’s credit card details appeared on the Operation Ore suspect database as a result of fraud, and that at the time he had complained and received refunds of payments. Mr Justice Mackay found there was no evidence he had been a subscriber to Landslide, the illegal pornography firm at the centre of the investigation.
The false charges were based on 10 indecent images of children found in the “temporary internet files” folder of a computer seized from Mr Clifford’s former business partner’s premises.
They “can appear as advertisements without the user of the computer requesting them or even being aware that they were on the machine”, the court heard.
Assessing the damages, the judge said that Mr Clifford was devastated by his arrest, which caused difficulties for his business and put a strain on his relationship with his wife.
There was no ordeal in the form of a criminal trial to be gone through but the numerous procedural court appearances - four before magistrates and seven in the crown court - caused him particular distress and fear of publicity.
After the charges were dropped Mr Clifford made a complaint and an internal investigation was launched. It found that Hertfordshire Constabulary’s computer forensics expert, George Fouhey, had told DC Hopkins that the “thumbnail” images were not sufficient evidence to charge.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire Constabulary said: “Legal advice was taken beforehand and it was advised and expected that we had a reasonable chance of winning our case.”
“We will seek to learn from this case and service improvements have already been implemented in the years since this case started.”
Monday, April 18, 2011
Operation Ore finally collapses
Posted by SteelMagnolia at 3:21 AM