A former cop turned private investigator who pleaded guilty to bribing two other officers to divulge information from the police computer walked free from court last night, after his six-month jail term was suspended for two years.
The two other former RUC officers also walked free from Downpatrick Crown Court, one with the same suspended jail term while the other was fined £850.
An earlier court hearing was told that 52-year-old private detective James Stewart was investigating insurance fraud for the Royal Sun Alliance motability scheme when he bribed Kevin Brendan Kelly (61) with a total of £1,000 to pass on information from the police computer.
When Kelly retired from the force, Stewart then started getting information from 52-year-old William John McAnally.
Stewart, from Forge Hill Court in Ballynahinch, pleaded guilty to one count of corruption on dates between September 2000 and November 2002 and a further 20 charges of procuring the disclosure of unlawful data in breach of the Data Protection Act on dates between October 1999 and February 2004.
Kelly, from Shanreagh Park in Limavady, also pleaded guilty to a single count of corruption and a further 25 charges of breaching the Data Protection Act between April 2000 and January 2003.
McAnally, from Church Road in Ballynahinch, admitted to 19 counts of breaching the Data Protection Act between September 2003 and February 2004.
Following his discharge from the RUC in 1993 on medical grounds, Stewart started up the Alpha Investigations agency and part of his business included investigations for various insurance brokers and companies and solicitors.
Yesterday Mr Justice Hart, sitting in Belfast, said a "major part" of his work was to investigate "suspect claims" and that in doing so, he "obtained information from his co-defendants who made use of their ability to access the police ICIS computer system".
The information they gleaned, said the judge, included details of criminal convictions, intelligence information, current and previous addresses and " suspicions that some may have had terrorist or criminal links".
"Stewart then supplied this information to his clients in order that they could consider how to approach, and in no doubt in many cases to resist, claims which they regarded as suspect or fraudulent," he told the court, adding that Stewart "charged a fee for this information in each case".
Mr Justice Hart said that as Kelly and McAnally were serving officers at the time, they were "in breach of their trust as police officers in obtaining this information for unauthorised purposes and passing it to Stewart".
The judge told Stewart that had it not been for mitigating factors in the case, he would have been sent to prison and not been given a suspended term.
As well as the suspended term, Mr Justice Hart imposed fines totalling £2,100 for the data protection offences.
In relation to Kelly, the judge said that like Stewart he has a "long and worthy career in the police" and that before that, he had served in the RAF.
Similarly, Kelly is the full-time carer to his wife who suffers from severe ill health and Mr Justice Hart, in imposing a six-month term suspended for two years, said it would be "unjust" if he made any difference between them.
For the data protection offences, Kelly was fined a total of £2,080.
Sentencing McAnally to a fine of £850, Mr Justice Hart said he also had a clear record and an "exemplary police career" and revealed that McAnally had been arrested just three days before retirement and so had to wait to receive his "Patten package".