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ACS Law head has fine slashed by 99.5 per cent

Andrew Crossley, former head of failed litigious law firm ACS Law and a symbol of hatred to innocents accused of sharing a host of R-rated entertainments, has avoided a bumper fine from the Information Commissioner - by pleading poverty.

Crossley's firm was one of a number of morally questionable law firms choosing to participate in what has become known as 'speculative invoicing' - sending out threatening letters accusing the recipient of sharing copyrighted content on peer-to-peer networks.

The 'evidence' for these accusations was often no more than an IP address, and the company relied on victims choosing to cough up for it to go no further rather than risk being dragged through the courts.

As ACS Law and its compatriots in the game found their tactics under fire from consumer protection groups, the more mainstream clients - computer game publishers and music labels - dried up, forcing Crossley to look to a new source of income to fund his lavish lifestyle: pornographers.

Holders of the rights to such classic grumble flicks as To The Manor Porn and Catch Her In The Eye paid Crossley a percentage of anything he could retrieve - and recipients of his threatening letters got a new reason to cough up: nobody wants to be dragged through the courts accused of downloading hardcore smut.

An attack by anti-copyright protesters took down the company's website, and a mistake by system administrators when restoring it leaked the company's entire e-mail database - revealing the sheer extent of innocent parties targeted by Crossley's campaign of copyright cash-seeking.

It also revealed information about Crossley's personal life - including a spat with his ex-wife, a hatred of consumer rights group Which?'s legal chief Deborah Prince for her work to alert the world of Crossley's legally-questionable letter-writing campaign, and his personal crisis of whether to add a high-priced Ferarri to his garage next to a recently-purchased Bentley.

If Crossley's pleas to the Information Commissioner are true, however, the days of fast cars are long gone.

After the e-mails leaked, a spreadsheet was discovered containing the personal details of some 10,000 people targeted by the company - generating a raft of complaints to the ICO. In its finding today, ICO has confirmed that Crossley is personally guilty - by virtue of his status as a sole trader - of a failure to adhere to data protection guidelines.

The fine was supposed to be set at £200,000 - a hefty penalty, but one a reasonable distance away from the £500,000 maximum the ICO is allowed to levy. Following a plea of poverty, however, the fine has been reduced to a mere £1,000 - just half a percent of its original figure.

"A monetary penalty of £200,000 would have been imposed, given the severity of the breach," Information Commissioner Christopher Graham confirmed - but claimed that the folding of the ACS Law business had left Crossley unable to pay such a fine, following a plea of 'limited means.'

The news that Crossley has got off with a fine of a mere £1,000 will likely come as a shock to those who were bullied into paying ACS Law for indemnification from prosection - something which it is estimated was earning Crossley £180,000 a month at the height of his campaign.

It will also do nothing to repair the reputation of the Information Commissioner's Office, often seen as little more than a paper tiger.