TNMOC volunteer provides more for hacking archive

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Even the global IT industry can be a very small world. In the audience at TNMOC to hear Robert Schifreen present his archive of the hacking case that made computing legal history in the 1980s was someone on the opposing legal bench.

While Robert Schifreen and Steve Gold were defending in the case Peter Hoath, working for BT as an Executive Engineer in Network Security, was in court and also acted as exhibits officer for the prosecution.

It just so happens that Peter is a volunteer at TNMOC and having heard Robert Schifreen’s talk ventured into his attic to produce additional material for the archive of the 1985 legal case that led to the 1990 Computer Misuse Act.

Peter explained “As a BT employee, I joined the prosecution team presenting evidence when the case was already underway. I remember that the jury had a rather difficult time coping with the technical jargon even though the judge would ask for lay explanations from time to time. There weren’t as many geeks around in those days!”

Peter recalls having a distinct feeling from seeing the faces of the members of the jury that one piece of evidence was key to the jury’s decision-making in the case and helped lead to the initial prosecution. “At one point it was shown that one of the defendants had used someone’s account and run up a bill of, from memory, £5.26. The jury realised that someone had clearly lost out! Among all the technical language, that was something that they clearly grasp!”

The archive presented by Peter includes some new material not surviving in Robert Schifreen’s archive. In particular, it has the original source for the exhibit presented in court showing the HRH Duke of Edinburgh’s Prestel login welcome page and another page where Schifreen had left a message for the systems administrator.

“It was good to meet Robert Schifreen again after all these years and it brought back many memories. I recall back in the late 1980s whilst handing back Steve and Robert’s kit that relations were convivial. Little did I realise we’d meet again nearly 30 years later under very different circumstances.”

The case served Peter well in his career and he went on to become BT’s Expert Witness in hacking, and fraud cases for several years. “We were learning our craft in that first case: especially understanding the legislation and the technical means whereby you bring a prosecution and make it both sound and understandable to a jury. My subsequent career as an Expert Witness was exciting and I enjoyed the adrenaline rush. The cases were often like jousting tournaments! The Gold and Schifreen case was the precursor to Law Commission Report 186 which led to the Computer Misuse Act of 1990 both of which I participated in. One of the very early prosecutions under the new Act was of the 8lgm hacking group - but that’s another story.”

Today Peter Hoath is a member of TNMOC Club and also a volunteer guide and regularly takes visitors on tours of the Museum.

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