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Computer forensics finger Westminster wedge

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Computer forensics played an important role in Westminster City Council’s fight to recover the £36m surcharge imposed on Dame Shirley Porter for her role in the 1980s ‘homes for votes’ scandal, it emerged this week.

Evidence unearthed by forensics experts at Vogon International helped city law firm Stephenson Harwood in tracking Dame Porter’s assets. The case ended successfully for Westminster City Council when a £12m mediated agreement was reached, which was paid on 1 July 2004.

As leader of Westminster Council in the 80s, Dame Porter had played a key role in a scheme that squandered millions of pounds by selling off council homes in marginal wards to potential Tory voters at knock down prices as part of a policy called “building stable communities”. After condemning her for ‘political corruption’, the House of Lords ordered the Tesco heiress to pay a surcharge of £36m for her involvement in the scheme. Dame Porter subsequently pleaded poverty. She claimed she that assets of just £300,000 despite being said to have once been the 20th richest woman in Europe, with a fortune in the region of £70m.

Vogon became involved last year when Westminster City Council obtained third party disclosure orders against companies and individuals in the UK connected with the scandal. Martin Gibbs, senior computer investigator at Vogon, explained: “Vogon investigators took complete images of the hard disks contained in various computers, which were then processed, and forensic recovery techniques were used to analyse deleted files. This provided important evidence for Westminster.” Julia Mowbray, commercial litigator at Stephenson Harwood, said: “The forensic computing techniques were useful aids in this international asset tracing exercise and turned up important evidence. They can have a significant impact in investigations of this kind.”

Although most commonly associated with Internet pornography cases, computer forensics has also been applied by Vogon in a variety of civil and criminal cases including electronic disclosure, email abuse, fraud and intellectual property theft. ®

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