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Computer expert jailed for thwarting child porn probe

Programmer jailed after police use new legislation

John Garvey

john.garvey@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886628

Court

A COMPUTER programmer suspected of having child porn hidden on his computer managed to thwart detectives for years.

But then police invoked powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and Daniel Bell suddenly ran out of room to manoeuvre.

Under the Act, law enforcement authorities have the power to require any person to put encrypted electronic information into an intelligible form or to disclose a key which would do so.

Failure to comply can result in a prison sentence of up to two years.

On Wednesday, November 7, the 30-year-old, who was living in Chieveley and who subsequently moved to Donnington Lodge, Newbury, was jailed for refusing to provide detectives with the encryption code to his computer.

Fiona Ryan, prosecuting at Reading Crown Court, said police raided Bell’s home in Chieveley in 2014, acting on information that he had been accessing indecent images of children.

They found all his hard drives were free from indecent material and open to their scrutiny but one, which was encrypted.

Bell, who worked for a Newbury company, flatly refused to provide detectives with the encryption key, the court heard, successfully stalling the investigation.

Although unable to crack his encryption code, detectives had another weapon up their sleeve – the RIPA legislation, the relevant clause of which was activated on October 1, 2007. 

Bell initially denied a charge of refusing to comply with a RIPA Section 49 notice, insisting he had forgotten the password.

But after losing a legal battle to keep the reason for the police raid secret from jurors, he changed his plea to guilty and conceded he was refusing to comply because of what would be found on the device.

Judge Emma Nott asked Ms Ryan: “No part of [the computer] can be accessed without the key?”

She replied: “No.”

At the sentencing hearing, Michael Phillips, for Bell, said his client had suffered a difficult childhood and was socially awkward.

He pleaded for any prison sentence to be suspended.

But Judge Nott sentenced Bell to nine months imprisonment, effective immediately, telling him: “You can go down.”

She told Mr Phillips: “If he had given up that key I might have been able to take a different course.”

Judge Nott went on to thank the officer in the case, Det Con Jeff Wheble, for his “tenacity during such a lengthy investigation”.

In addition to the prison term, Bell was ordered to pay a statutory victim services surcharge of £115. 

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Article comments

  • Blizzard

    05/12/2018 - 19:07

    Should have taken it to "KrullonTrack", never known them not to be able to not get around something.

    Reply