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moguls forgot to wipe hard drive
files belonging to an international film company containing financial
information and personal details of stars have been found on two
computers sold at auction.
Retired press photographer Mike Kirkup was stunned
when he turned on the Power Mac 720s, which he bought for just Ј12
each, and found telephone numbers for actors including Stephen Fry,
personal emails between the company and legendary director Franco
Zeffirelli, multimillion-pound financial deals, and casting details.
"There is an incredible amount of information on
here which could cause a lot of damage if it fell into the wrong
hands," said Kirkup.
The PCs belonged to film company NDF International,
which was responsible for financing and co-producing The Crying
Game, Smoke, Wilde and Titus.
One of the Power Macs was used by the personal
assistant to chief executive and managing director Michiyo Yoshizaki,
a leading light in the British film industry who serves on the
advisory panel for the British Independent Film awards.
"Besides alternative film scripts, which would be
of interest to collectors, there were letters which showed that
Yoshizaki was interested in buying the rights to Karma Sutra 2
and shooting a new production with Franco Zeffirelli," said
Also included were letters to the former Beatle George
Harrison's production company Handmade Films, long lists of cast
telephone numbers and information that would have been interesting to
tabloid gossip columns.
"There is a note here that they were considering
Sting for a cameo role in the film Wilde and considering the
actress Teresa Russell for the part of Wilde's wife. The role went to
Jennifer Ehle," explained Kirkup.
But of more concern to the company would be details of
its multiple bank accounts and financial affairs.
"It would not take much for anyone to use this
information to illegally remove money from the company," said
Kirkup. "Certainly I would take great care 'wiping ' my hard
drive before selling any computer.
"Any good programmer can retrieve old files. If I
had personal or company banking details on it I would hesitate in
A spokesman for NDF said that the computers had been
replaced two years ago and that the data had been copied.
"They had sat in the corner of the office and we
assumed they had been wiped. When we came to move from our Soho
offices we decided to get rid of them," he said.
But the company considered the data, which covered the
period 1996 to 2000, as very old and of no interest, as all projects
had been finished. "It is a little worrying that all that
financial information was there," admitted the spokesman.
Kirkup said he was happy to either wipe the computers
or hand the data over to NDF. "I am acting in good faith
here," he said.
Margaret Manwaring, compliance manager at the
Information Commission, said that there is clear evidence of a breach
of the Data Protection Act by NDF but that the case was unlikely to
end up in a criminal prosecution.
"If we receive a complaint we will approach the
company and ask it to improve its systems," she said.
"If one of the stars whose phone numbers were on
the list complained then it would be possible for them to get damages
if they could prove that they had been financially harmed by the
information being disclosed."