A YORK man and his colleagues stole nearly three million data records worth tens of thousands of pounds from their employer.

Nashaat Ahmed, 30, a married father, of The Green, Acomb, and Jaime Calvert, 23, William Messruther, 30, and Mark Belton, 25, used millions of “data lines” they had fraudulently copied from their employer, Scarborough-based Emailmovers Ltd, before leaving to set up their own market-research company.

The data included 2.8 million unique records with the names and email addresses of firms and individuals who could then be contacted by clients looking to generate new business.

North Yorkshire Police’s High-Tech Crime Unit estimated that 8.2 million lines of stolen data had been stored on disks and computer hard drives at the rival company, Veri Media.

The audacious scam was detected by forensic investigators at Emailmovers, one of the UK’s leading digital-marketing agencies, owned by brothers Duncan and Jamie Gledhill.

Judge Mr Hunt said at York Crown Court that the defendants had “cynically” exploited data and training from their former employers to make money for their clone company. “It was a body blow to the business and threatened its existence,” he added, handing each man a 21-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and also ordering each of them to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work.

Ahmed, Calvert, of York Road, Little Driffield, and Messruther of Albermarle Crescent, Scarborough, pleaded guilty to theft while Belton, of Rothwell, near Leeds, admitted one count of fraud.

Prosecutor Anthony Dunne said Emailmovers sold or leased data to clients looking for customers for their products, or doing market research on behalf of clients trying to generate leads for new sales. The defendants were found (by their employers) to be chatting between each other about setting up their own business directly in competition with Emailmovers and they were sacked but set up the rival “copy business” using cloned data.

The defendants promised to return all the stolen files but not all were and in a police search of the defendants’ premises, computer-storage devices were discovered containing yet more stolen addresses.

Mr Dunne said the thefts had had a profound effect on the firm, whose bosses felt “betrayed,” having trained the defendants.

Rukhshanda Hussain, for Ahmed, said he was now a sales executive for Toyota where he was highly-regarded. Victoria Smithswain, for Calvert, said he was now managing director of his own business-comparison website. Alex Menary, for Messruther, said he was a family man and now ran two businesses, including a chip shop. Mark Rhind, for Belton, said he had also set up his own business.

Emailmovers’ directors said afterwards: “This case should serve as a warning that in the digital world, a trail of evidence is left behind for others to detect and prosecute your crime. With the right systems in place, there is no hiding place.”