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Woodgate and Clark Ltd in West Malling and bosses fined over using private detectives to obtain data

A judge has handed out fines totalling £185,000 after a firm of loss adjusters used private detectives to illegally obtain personal data to investigate a suspicious insurance claim.

West Malling company Woodgate and Clark Ltd will have to pay £50,000, retired joint managing director Michael Woodgate, 67, of Mereworth, near Tunbridge Wells, £75,000, and employee Colum Tudball, 54, of Kingsnorth, Ashford, £30,000.

Private detective Adam Spears, 78, of Lydd-on-Sea, had his fine reduced to £10,000 because of his limited means, and another PI, Daniel Summers, 38, who has fled to Cyprus, was fined £20,000.

Michael Woodgate
Michael Woodgate

They were each ordered at Maidstone Crown Court to pay £25,000 costs, apart from Spears who will pay £2,500.

The case involved a £1 million insurance claim for fire damage to Voodoo Lounge nightclub in Lancashire nearly 13 years ago, which insurers instructed Woodgate and Clark to investigate.

Prosecutor Richard Horwell QC said the case centred on whether the company and the four men either knowingly or “at the very least” recklessly disregarded the Data Protection Act 1998 for their own ends.

Colum Tudball
Colum Tudball

It concerned the unlawful obtaining and disclosure of personal financial information about nightclub owner Michael Cookson.

Summers was alleged to have used an illicit technique called “blagging” in which he called banks and deceived staff into believing they were talking to the account holder.

Christopher Coltart, defending Woodgate and Tudball, said it was a sad day for the firm, as they were all previously of impeccable character.

Judge Charles Macdonald QC
Judge Charles Macdonald QC

“However misconceived the action taken by them, it was against a backdrop of a genuine and reasonably held suspicion the fire had been deliberately started,” he said

“It doesn’t excuse what followed. It was to establish the truth of how this fire was started or whether the £1 million insurance claim submitted was genuine or not.”

Judge Charles Macdonald QC said the company had an annual turnover of £12 million.

Passing sentence, he said: “I regard the offending as serious. The purpose was plainly commercial. In my judgement, the use of unlawful means to further business in this way requires deterrence.”

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