back to article Council IT bod in the dock for flogging scrap work PC parts

A council IT worker who flogged his employers' scrap kit on eBay for £10,000 has been ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work by a court. Ian Holwell, 52, grabbed PCs and laptops due to be disposed by Derbyshire County Council and stripped out their parts to sell online. But he was rumbled and sacked after a whistleblower alerted …

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So were they for the scrap heap or not?

The last paragraph has thrown me here. Were these things going into the bin, or being given to a third party for refurbishing? The last paragraph obviously indicates the refurbishing but the rest of the article makes it sound like they were destined for the bin. The story plays a little differently depending on which is the case.

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Re: So were they for the scrap heap or not?

"The last paragraph obviously indicates the refurbishing but the rest of the article makes it sound like they were destined for the bin"

It seems he took memory and hard drives from items that were 'marked for disposal' - as you say it's not clear that 'disposal' means 'chuck into landfill' or if this is the point at which the kit is passed on to the third party for refurb / resale but as he still had access to them it's fair to assume that hadn't at that point been sent off site so either someone had decided to bypass the third party refurb option for that kit or he was cherry-picking precisely the sort of stuff that third party would have found most useful.

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Re: So were they for the scrap heap or not?

There's a legal requirement to recycle IT equipment so I would expect them to be selling (in one form or another) to a recycling firm (for parts & scrap rather than refurbishment) who would not be best pleased with the contract if many of the most valuable bits were being taken out before they got their hands on them & the council would end up getting less money for their scrap.

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Re: So were they for the scrap heap or not?

I am more worried that it sounds like they are not properly disposing of hard drives. The rest should be sent for recycling as you say and not a scarp heap.

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Theft Act 1968

Section 5(3):

Where a person receives property from or on account of another, and is under an obligation to the other to retain and deal with that property or its proceeds in a particular way, the property or proceeds shall be regarded (as against him) as belonging to the other.

I believe this is what Recorder Michael Stevens was refering to with the words "if the employer says ‘put it in landfill and leave it to rot’, it is for them to decide. It is not for you to harvest the parts, sell them and provide an income"

Additionally, as already pointed out by others, his employer had not actually disposed of them - they were just marked for disposal. No wonder Holwell admitted to theft.

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Meh

PC disposals of PC equipment

I'm sure the council have a politically correct disposal system in place whereby the computers are sent to Nigeria or Asia for disposal of parts. Of course the council will pay a third party to collect and dispose of the items, the third party will then provide the council with an income, usually no more than 3% of the profits.

Although this guy was a 'thief' he was actually saving them money, and if they have been enlightened, which most councils are not, they could have gone 50/50 on the profits. It would also have saved the parts being dismantled by child labour on the Africa or Asian continent.

He should have put the business proposal to them, that was his mistake.

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: So were they for the scrap heap or not?

Recorder Michael Stevens said "... the employer says ‘put it in landfill and leave it to rot’. So there are two possibilities. Either the council is not recycling equipment, or the Recorder doesn't know what's going on. Neither is very encouraging.

If the Recorder was correct, and that's what the council said, at what point does this kit become fair game? Would you be allowed to harvest parts from this kit as soon as it's in the landfill, or would you have to wait for visible signs of rot? Hardware takes a very long time to rot (as opposed to software, which starts to rot from the day it's written).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So were they for the scrap heap or not?

>at what point does this kit become fair game?

The instant the middleman has lawfully discharged his obligations. In your example that would be delivered said kit to said landfill.

There are people who lurk at dumps for exactly that reason. One man's...

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Lurking at dump

Actually, I had the staff come out and argue with me at one place. My dyson had a part that broke, and when I took some stuff up a guy opened up his boot and there was the same model as mine, his was broken in a different way. Great I thought, I asked him if I could have it and he said sure, so he sat it down for me and when I was done unloading my car I put it into the back of mine. Several staff ran out and told me either I take it out or they would call the police, that products taken there belong to the council and no one is allowed to pick up anything that is on site.

Sometimes these things are crazy.

There was a compaq repair center near where I worked, and I had 3 pc's from their garbage skip once, but I found out later that they had someone arrested for taking parts out of the skip (it was not for recycling either).

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Re: Lurking at dump

The dump employees are wrong.

If you actually dump it, it becomes their property and only at that point can they claim its there's.

They do have notices saying exchanging of things between cars isn't allowed, but exchanging between cars certainly isn't illegal and if y9ou give something from your car to me, while they can moan all they want, can even kick us out the dump if they so choose, they simply cannot claim its theft.

I had a huge argument with my dump about this, I had a large roll of bubble wrap on the back-seat of my car, the guy in the car next to me asked if I was dumpling it and if so, could he have it, I said sure and took it out of my car and was about to place it in his boot

A dump employee then snatched it off of me and said it was theirs. I said it wasn't it was mine and I'm in the process of giving it to him. The council bod took it to his office, I followed him and a huge argument ensued where he tried to tell me it was his, I told him he has zero right to take peoples stuff and he was stealing and I'm taking it back.

He threatened to phone the police, I told him to go ahead as it would save me the bother. I then picked it up walked back to my car with it and he shouted after me "he could have offered me a few quid for it, then I would be happy"

I then told the other guy to meet me outside the gates and I gave it to him there.

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Re: Lurking at dump

Fascinating examples of dump-workers' mentality. By the definition used by the workers, either a) anything you take out of the car whilst unloading is theirs, which cannot be correct, or b) anything in the car when you enter the site is theirs, which definitely cannot be right. There clearly has to be some point at which intention is shown, and that *must* logically be the point at which you voluntarily let go of it, either over the threshold of the waste container or into the custody of a worker at the site. To do otherwise means that you could not change your mind about chucking something, or if your spare walking boots fall out of the car accidentally, they cannot leave the site either (of course, if they are good ones, that might be exactly what a worker with larceny in his heart will claim).

Having said that, I have never had any such problems in a Dumpit site (yep, that is still what I call them) - the staff have invariably either completely ignored the civilians no matter how much someone might be struggling, or been exceptionally courteous and have clearly ignored such transactions between users as has been described here as long as the tipping has not shown the intention I described above.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So were they for the scrap heap or not?

My last employer (security services) sent the old kit to a third party at a cost, the third party then wiped and returned a certificate to declare it safe. They would then refurbish or re-use any parts and refund to us the percieved value of the parts, thereby reducing the overall cost

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Lurking at dump

We used to have a really good bloke at our local garbage tip that would basically look the other way if you told him your story about why you wanted the rubbish. Unfortunately we've got the "waste management nazis" there now, and a council that's encouraging it (additional fees and new rules about every 6 months).

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I can see both sides of the argument here, but this is a bit stupid. There should be provision to give away electronic equipment without warranty so that servicable equipment does not just go in the bin.

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...There should be provision to give away electronic equipment without warranty so that servicable equipment does not just go in the bin....

Alas, nowadays that is illegal under the EU Waste Directive. You cannot just give electrical equipment away anymore - that's why Oxfam shops no longer sell it...

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It is a bit stupid. My father worked for a government organisation and used to (completely legitimately) bring home bits and pieces of computers that they couldn't find an economic use for any more, for me to play with.

Here in the modern private sector equipment gets replaced far too regularly for that. You can still take it home... but only if you pay the lease's balloon payment. Bah.

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Alert

You cannot just give electrical equipment away anymore - that's why Oxfam shops no longer sell it..."

Most places, councils and charity shops in particular, stopped selling or giving away old electricals years ago when the EU and/or UK Gov. decided that said equipment must be tested as safe and up to spec. or the seller/giver would be responsible for accidents/injuries/deaths caused by said equipment.

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Oxfam may not take it

but plenty of other charity shops do. As far as I can see, they all do a Portable Appliance Test before selling it on.

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This lack of imagination

And lack of connection to the real world is rife in local government.

If Holwell could glean £10k from the sale if 'scrap' kit why couldn't the IT dept?

£10,000 is ~10 annual council tax bills in Derbyshire.

Whoever signed the kit off as scrap should be sacked.

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Re: This lack of imagination

It likely would cost the council more than £10k to have the drives certified as wiped, have the kit PAT and whatever else tested, install an operating system and make provision for warranties. Blame the idiotic laws not allowing IT kit to be sold off "as is" and not the council for taking the least expensive route.

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Re: This lack of imagination

How much time and effort was required? Staff have to be paid and a few grand does not go all that far.

It's not just the sales but any follow-up on defective kit, shipping problems etc etc not to mention the problems with the legal restrictions on how a local authority is able to raise funds.

It may be that some items were classed as scrap when there might in fact have been a use for them but that does not mean it would be right (or even economically efficient) for a local authority to set itself up as a second-hand component sales business to try and eke out every last penny.

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Re: This lack of imagination

@Cameron Colley

If it was your money you would: Dban, sold as seen, no warranties.

ONLY if it was Other People's Money would you have the drives certified as wiped, have the kit PAT and whatever else tested, install an operating system and make provision for warranties.

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Re: This lack of imagination

@Lord Voldemortgage

"It may be that some items were classed as scrap when there might in fact have been a use for them"

Who certified £10k's worth of saleable kit as scrap?

"but that does not mean it would be right (or even economically efficient) for a local authority to set itself up as a second-hand component sales business to try and eke out every last penny"

Eking out every last penny is *exactly* what we pay the wastrels for. If it was their money they would sell it and find a way round any difficulties. As it's OPM they just can't be arsed.

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Re: This lack of imagination

"Who certified £10k's worth of saleable kit as scrap?"

It's not clear that anyone did.

Items were "marked for disposal" but as the council say they use a third party to refurbish and resell old IT kit it might well be that the items in question were destined for that process rather than the bin.

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@El Presidente

What's the procedure one goes through to ensure that selling IT kit on "as seen" and without warranty is legal? How do you word the disclaimers that people sign when they buy it? Does the ICO accept "we ran dban on the disks" as proof of the destruction of the data they contain?

I'm seeing a lot of criticism of the council but not much constructive advice as to how these problems can be got around. If you can provide the answers then please do as I know many organisations will be looking for them and, who knows, you may be able to persuade your local council to give it a go.

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Re: Cameron Colley @El Presidente

That's what a lot of commentards don't seem to get - if the Council flogs old kit, they are doing so in the course of a business and *they are responsible for it*, andin most cases cannot exclude all liability for it.

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Re: @Cameron Colley

"the council told The Register it would only throw away kit that couldn't be reused or sold without cost"

So from that statement we can deduce that the person who declared the kit couldn't be 'reused or sold without cost' didn't have as much of a clue about IT kit as Holwell did - he made £10k.

That marks the person making that decision as very, very stupid.

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Re: @Cameron Colley

No, it marks Holwell down as someone breaking the law and consequently probably not someone particularly concerned with whether the kit was even safe, let alone whether it worked. It marks the council spokesbod as working for an organization that is responsible and law abiding. Guess what, if you start from the basis that you're half-inching your stock from stuff that belongs to your employer, and you're not concerned with niceties such as safety, whether it works or not and you build into your "business model" that utter disregard for both your employer *and* the luckless schmuck that you're flogging the stuff to, yes, you can make money at it. That doesn't mean that you're right, just unprincipled.

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Re: This lack of imagination

In this case, the council would need to have the drives certified as wiped. Otherwise they end up with the problem of having some excel spreadsheet with ratepayers' personal details ending up in some computer in Nigeria. I know in several authorities I worked for, we had to have the drives certified as wiped anyway, even before sending them off to the landfill (in the days before mandatory electronics recycling).

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Re: That marks the person making that decision as very, very stupid.

What the hell do you expect from damagement? Intelligence??

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Big Brother

Re: This lack of imagination

"Who certified £10k's worth of saleable kit as scrap?"

It's mainly 5+ years old Dell kit.

An authorised recycler will buy it on the understanding that they will make money by stripping the useful bits (the RAM and HDDs the ex-employee stole). If the council had used staff to strip and sell those parts, you've already lost some of that £10k in wages. Probably quite a lot of it as they have a legal requirement not to be the next Daily Mail "OMGs, More! Council! Data! Lost!" headline so HDDs must be wiped. Selling a "working" PC would cost more, even when sold internally only to staff as PAT testing is also required along with reinstalling the original OEM WinXP image.

Even on the "new" PCs, a failed HDD replaced under warranty, we only send back the top cover and keep the platters.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @El Presidente

sold as seen does not stand up in contract la anymor no matter how many ebay people put it, it has to meet the standard of as described and fit for the purpose....hence you dont see so many side of the road car dealers nowadays

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Seems like an enterprising chap. rather better than ending up being shipped overseas, and picked over for precious metals by chinese children (poisioning them in the process).

If i need an IT bod who can think outside the box, I'll look him up.

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Do that. But don't be surprised if you find out he is using his work time on a personal project to your detriment.

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WTF?

He's a thief. Gun runners and drug dealers are also quite enterprising. Doesn't mean you'd want to employ them.

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@Terry Barnes

"He's a thief." - the law isn't always right, and in this case it seems that a combination of laws* has created at least the semblance of an ass.

I'd consider employing him.

*Theft Act, laws on disposal/testing, employment laws etc.

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Facepalm

Re: @Terry Barnes

Right, yes, because obviously the problem here is that we have laws against theft, not that someone broke them.

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If the guy made £10000 on these parts clearly they were'nt that old. Throwing them on landfill strikes me as criminal waste especially as it is by a council not a commercial company and this kit was paid for by taxpayers.

I used to work for a training company with charitable status, the only computer kit they had were donated, I'm sure many such charities exist that would be grateful for donations.

I don't condone the mans theft from his employers, but neither do I condone the councils actions either, the council reps comments just seem like justification for a lazy approach to older kit and perhaps the council is being over-generous to itself as regards it's IT budget.

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he should

have set himself up a little business saying 'PC recycler' , bought the council official concerned a slap up dinner and offered £500 for the lot.

Then sold them on for £10 000..

Or at least thats how local concils work around here

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Mushroom

The people grumbling the council didn't make £10,000

are they the same that bay for blood when councils lose personal data ?

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Ahem!

The point you're all missing here is this:

The council was disposing of it's equipment, and failed to notice that hard drives etc were not making it as far as their approved disposal agent.

Since said agent would doubtless raise concerns if machines started turning up missing such useful components, it seems to me unlikely the agent was receiving the machines in question. This leads us to "whole machines were likely not making it to the disposal agents, and nobody noticed".

This chap might have been a well intentioned (if naive and poorly informed) chap, diligently wiping material etc before selling devices on. But what if he wasn't?

Data Protection For Dummies to the IT Dept I feel...

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Re: Ahem!

On the other hand, the gentleman in question might have been a bit more diligent than some of the "official" recyclers we have seen stories about. Certainly, if it had been me, I'd have made damn sure the drives were wiped with several passes to make sure they nothing on their would lead to a news story about leaked data - let's face it, it doesn't take long, and it isn't difficult.

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FAIL

The irony is that the downvoter

Will probably be local a government slacker doing the down-voting on a council PC, in a council office, and in all probability breaching their internet usage guidelines. On our dime.

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Re: The irony is that the downvoter

2 down-votes already?

The prosecution gently rests its case.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The irony is that the downvoter

Well your case is tired so resting it might be for the best.

FYI I downvoted you and do not work in the public sector. Whether you think I work on your 'dime' probably depends on the depth and subtlety of your understanding of where your money goes.

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Headmaster

Re: The irony is that the downvoter

It's probably to do with your usage of "dime".

(We need a language flame icon, along with a popcorn icon, an old fart icon, etc, etc, etc.)

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Not sure I understand this ruling.

Are we saying that you can't sell second-hand electronics at all? Surely not.

Are we saying that you can't take rubbish from a bin and put it to better purpose? That has huge implications.

And if the guy had set up as a waste management company who collected the parts, took out the value, then paid another waste management company to come in and take the rest to dispose of officially with WEEE licenses and stuff (while obviously charging the same or slightly more than they were), that's absolutely fine?

It's not like he took anything from the company itself. He hasn't "permanently deprived" them of anything they were interested in keeping (though I understand that implicit assumptions cannot form explicit permission to do so). Even if the physical acts were technically different, he was basically taking rubbish out of a bin. So now all those guys who I see take rubbish from householders bins in the hopes of selling bits of it on as scrap, or for their own use (e.g. taking an old TV from the street next to the bin), or from people's skips are breaking the law? If he'd waited until the kit was abandoned in a skip to be taken away and then come back later in an unofficial capacity to take it, is that still a problem? What if someone takes the waste paper or cardboard boxes out of the workplace bin to give to their kids to play with? Is that really technically illegal or any different?

Sure, there's legal ownership there somewhere still but is it really that detrimental to either party? If his employers had promised X amount of usable scrap to the waste companies, then yes I see the problem - he's made them breach their contract with them. But if it's just junk that's going into the bin, surely the "value" of the goods is zero. Hell, with IT stuff you have to PAY people to take it away for you, generally, so it actually has negative value.

And why couldn't he have got permission? The council obviously disposed of it, no matter what value was in it, and provided no guarantees as to its usability. They've met their taxation obligations ("beyond economical repair" for the company to justify disposing of it does not mean that the kit couldn't have value for someone else - if it did, nobody would be able to throw anything away). Why can't you just say "It's in the bin, I consider it rubbish and I will concede all rights to it being my property"? Why do they have to endorse its future use or certification before someone can take it "as is", when I can sell my crap on eBay and not have anyone question it?

I don't get it at all. Sure, there may be technicalities and difficulties related to this particular instance but, in general, once something has been disposed of intentionally, why can't someone else pick it up and use it rather than let it go into landfill? What about all those art installations? What rights do I get to things I put in public bins? Can I complain that the council gets a kickback from recycling rubbish that I *obviously* intended to dispose of into landfill?

It seems there's just too much riding on saying that what he did was wrong. It makes more things that are "right" in theory become illegal than it does things that are "wrong" in theory stay illegal.

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Stop

"It's not like he took anything from the company itself. He hasn't "permanently deprived" them of anything they were interested in keeping (though I understand that implicit assumptions cannot form explicit permission to do so). Even if the physical acts were technically different, he was basically taking rubbish out of a bin."

Or was he taking rubbish out of a recycling bin before said bin went to a company that would pay based on the value of its contents?

The articles here and on thisisderbyshire aren't really clear on the matter but it does look like the council uses a third party to carry out precisely the sort of stripping and resale that Mr Holwell was doing and would receive a cut of the proceeds - if this is the case then it is a much more obvious theft.

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Anonymous Coward

AFAIK

When you dump something in a skip, the item then belongs to the disposal company,

therefore taking anything out is theft! The same applies to household bins or electrical items.

However, I have done a bit of skip raiding in the past, got a load of great kit!

The thing I wonder about is... I sometimes buy from a local recycling centre

All the kit has personal data on it and I do a DOJ wipe on all hard disks I get.

But i bet there are juicy pics on the hard drives, the passwords are always 'password' ;)

Still some valuable kit can be picked up for a few quid;)

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Stop

No - the ruling is quite clear. You can't steal things from your employer. What the thing is, its usefulness or value is irrelevant - you can't take stuff that doesn't belong to you. All your 'what ifs' are irrelevant, because he didn't do any of those things - he stole stuff.

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