Your company's intellectual property - such as your customer database - are one of your biggest assets and is in danger of theft or misuse
When Mr W wiped the whiteboard clean of all his current client contacts, replaced them with the words "Goodbye Employer", packed up his bags and left, he evidently thought that his dealings with his former employers were done. Just weeks later, however, he would be faced with a team of forensic computer experts sent by his former employers, accompanied by an independent solicitor and a High Court Order allowing forensic images to be taken of computers and other electronic equipment in his possession, with any attempt by him not to comply with the order leaving him at risk of an application for contempt of court
Mr W had earned a six figure sum working as a senior recruitment consultant in the specialist oil and gas recruitment industry in Surrey. He had worked for his employer for over fourteen years. He resigned, stating an intention to work in property. At his leaving drinks he declared to colleagues that his employer was finished. So far, so disillusioned employee
His employer became suspicious when it transpired that vast quantities of information had been deleted from Mr W's computer. Key clients of the company had also been contacted by Mr W to say that he had set up elsewhere in competition with his former employers. These factors together led to the company instructing surveillance experts to find out more about Mr W's post-termination activiteis. This revealed that Mr W had set up a rival company shortly after he had resigned and that he was now working in competition in South London, together with another recently resigned ex-employee, Mrs F. Mr W and another party were the new company's Directors
The surveillance experts posed as start-up sandwich sellers and made an appointment to go and talk to Mr W and Mrs F to offer their services at their offices. A covert recording was made - of which an excerpt was later played in Court during the application for relief - during which Mr W and Mrs F gave the start up sandwich sellers helpful advice on how to start up a new business and hinted that they had been helped along by the "good old database"
Forensic computer specialists examined the computers belonging to Mr W and Mrs F when they were still employed by the client company. This revealed unusual and unexplained activity on the computers including the accessing of large amounts of confidential information on the server and the attachment of computer interface devices (USB devices) capable of storing documents at key dates prior to the departure of the ex-employees
There was sufficient evidence of unusual and unexplained activity on these computers coupled with the surveillance evidence to enable the client company's barrister to persuade a High Court judge that an order for imaging of equipment at Mr W's new company should be made. The evidence obtained following the Court Order showed that the client company's customer and candidate database had been copied and it was with this stolen information that Mr W had set up his new company. During the execution of the High Court Order Mr W tried to conceal memory sticks containing the copied database from the independent solicitor
The High Court has ordered that neither Mr W nor Mrs F can work in the industry for the next twelve months. Any breach of this order will be taken as contempt of court and could result in imprisonment. Mr W's new company has had to account to the client's company for their profits and has ceased trading. In a severe ruling which reflects the seriousness of data theft in today's clime, Judge Wakesman QC stated that should any other person who knows of the notice and deals with Mr W's company, Mr W or Mrs F helping or permitting them to breach the terms of the order, that they too could be held in contempt of court
The client's MD said "Whilst we are pleased with the outcome of this case, we are very disappointed as being a people focussed business we supported both Mr W and Mrs F during their employment, increasing their earnings and careers significantly. We bought the company originally on the basis of the strength of their clients and contacts which took years to accumulate, and for former staff to knowingly steal and sabotage this information for their own gain is disgraceful. The severity of this order reflects the magnitude of their wrongdoings and the intent to directly harm our business."
We will be pleased to advise and help your company should you be facing a potentially similar issue; further information can be seen in the accompanying pages relating instances of materials theft and staff poaching