Inspired by the book, Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Suelette Dreyfus, In the Realm of the Hackers focuses on two Melbourne teenage hackers known as Electron and Phoenix, who in 1989, hacked into some of the most secure computer networks in the world, including the US Naval Research Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (a government lab charged with the security of the US nuclear stockpile), and NASA.
In the late 1980s, Melbourne was the hub of the computer underground in Australia, if not the world. The hackers who formed the underground were not disgruntled computer professionals or gangs of organised criminals. They were disaffected teenagers who used their basic home computers to explore the embryonic Internet from inside their locked, suburban bedrooms. From this shadowy world emerged two elite hackers known as Electron and Phoenix, who formed part of an alliance called The Realm.
Together, Electron and Phoenix stole a restricted computer security list and used it to break into some of the world’s most classified and supposedly secure computer systems. So fast and widespread was the attack, people assumed it was an automated program, until Phoenix called The New York Times to brag. Soon the US Secret Service and the FBI were on their trail and, within months, the Australian Federal Police had raided their homes.
Using a combination of interviews and dramatic reconstructions, In the Realm of the Hackers charts Electron’s journey from his initial innocent explorations to his ultimate obsession. It vividly recreates the climate of the 1980s, before there was public access to the Internet.
In the Realm of the Hackers takes us headlong into the clandestine, risky but intoxicating world of the computer underground to uncover not only how the hackers did it but why.
In an interview 2003, the film’s writer and director, Kevin Anderson explained the background to his film:
I initially became aware of the story of the Melbourne computer underground after reading Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Melbourne-based author and journalist Suelette Dreyfus.
During my three-year involvement with the project, I had to immerse myself in the computer underground and acquaint myself with terms and concepts I was completely unfamiliar with. Suelette was to become my main conduit to various members of the underground, both past and present.
The story represented a number of “firsts”- the new crime called computer hacking, the first computer crime case to be prosecuted in Australia, the introduction of federal computer crime laws, the establishment of a computer crime unit within the Australian Federal Police, and the first time computer data had been recorded and used as evidence in Australia.
Forming the spine of the story was also the development of the Internet in Australia. Here was an opportunity to show the role that computer hackers played in this and ironically how they were responsible for the creation of the computer security industry, something that wasn’t needed in the early open days of the Internet.
An interesting footnote, Julian Assange helped research Suelette Dreyfus’ book Underground.
The story originally came to me via a friend, who had a friend, who had a film script – that’s how things happen, like ‘Chinese Whispers’, they start off as one thing and become something else. It was a good script, and would have made a fun wee movie, the kind Bill Forsyth or Charlie Gormley made about Glasgow in the 1980s, you can Google the type, Comfort and Joy meets Heavenly Pursuits, something like that.
I hocked it around but no takers, one to put down to experience. But I was still intrigued and thought there was maybe something more here, especially after the script’s writer, Carl MacDougall, told me the story was loosely based on real events. So, I’ll start with how it ended and then tell you how it began and where it all went wrong.
It should have been the best of times, but just weeks after 19-year-old, James McCreadie won £1500 on the Scottish Daily Express Place the Ball competition, three men, who claimed to be from the newspaper, turned up at his door and demanded he hand over £1300 of his winnings. If he didn’t pay up, then the men would put him in a concrete overcoat and dump him in the River Clyde.
Suddenly, it was the worst of times, and while most would have coughed up the money to avoid the fish, McCreadie had a problem - he didn’t have his winnings, he’d spent them on drinking, gambling, and a new £95 color TV for his gran. In fear for his life, the teenager went to the police - and this is how the cops uncovered biggest fraud in British newspaper history.
It began with Catherine McChord. At twenty-seven, she felt her life was over and could only dream of escaping the deprived housing estate in Baillieston, on the outskirts of Glasgow, where she lived with her husband, Eddie, a twenty-seven—year-old taxi driver. When the couple discovered, two years into their marriage, they could not have children, they decided to set their sights on the top, as Cathy later told the Glasgow Herald:
“I don’t really know why I became involved in this. Maybe it would have been different if we could have had children. I don’t know.”
McChord worked as an office clerk at the Scottish Daily Express, where she earned £35 a week. For Cathy, it seemed that her future life was all around her - older women who had worked at the same job in the same office, year-after-year, until they retired, received their handshake, and had nothing to show for it but a few happy thoughts and the faint memory of a fling at the Christmas party. That wasn’t for Cathy, she wanted a taste of the good things in life - holidays, a car, a new home. That was the dream, and in 1973, the dream became a little closer when she was appointed Deputy Competitions Clerk, to the new Head of Competitions, Colin Hunter.
At thirty-six, Hunter was very similar to Cathy. He’d spent a life working hard at a job as a middle management accountant, who knew his promotion to Head of Competitions, with a salary of £80 a week, was as high up as he would ever go.
Like Cathy, Colin wanted more from life. He hated living in Castlemilk. He felt it wasn’t a safe place for his family to grow up in. The sixties promise of a modern Glasgow was now a grey reality of bleak new towns, housing estates and high rises. Hunter felt his best years were over and just wanted to give his wife, and especially his two children something of value, something that would change their lives for the better, and now here was that chance.
In the 1960s and 1970s Britain was addicted to a newspaper competition called Spot the Ball. Each week, the Scottish Daily Express, amongst others, would publish a photograph from a soccer match and invite readers to guess the position of the ball, which has been removed from the picture. In its day, the Scottish Daily Express’ Place the Ball was as popular as the National Lottery today. Unlike the lottery, individuals used mathematical theory, random algorithms, body language, lines of sight convergence, and a considerable amount of potluck to pin-point the exact position of the missing ball.
The Express offered a weekly cash prize of £1,500 – the equivalent of the average workers’ yearly wage. This was later increased to £5,000 and then to £20,500 and £22,000 – the equivalent of a £1,000,000 win today.
Too great a temptation for Cathy, who realized, when it was rumoured the Scottish Daily Express was to close, and the staff made redundant, she had found a way to have those things she had always wanted.
On hearing her suggestion, Hunter turned a blind eye, but later claimed he joined the criminal cartel after he heard redundancy money was being offered at Express departments, and he and his colleagues hoped to collect as well. “But in March 1974, we were told we were being retained. That was the final trigger for the involvement.”
It was a simple plan. Cathy and Hunter ran a syndicate, made up of Eddie McChord, and friends John Smith, Thomas Hutton, and Donald Williamson. These friends located a suitable winner – someone who needed a small sum of money. Once the bogus winner was selected, a winning entry form would be submitted in their name, which then won the £15,000 Place the Ball prize.
The bogus winner kept £200 of their winnings, returning £1300.
The £1300 was divided three-ways: £500 each to Cathy and Hunter; and £300 for the other members of the syndicate.
From March 1974, until April 1977, Cathy and Hunter fixed 67 Place the Ball competitions. They also twice rigged two major jackpots of £20,500 and £22,000, collecting two-thirds of these winnings for themselves.
As Cathy and Hunter did the hardest part of the swindle, they took the lion’s share of the loot.
“I enjoy spending money I like good things, wine, food, travel. And I love clothes, particularly trouser suits. I did make flights to London to buy clothes but not as people made out.
“Whenever I had money from the competitions, I would take it to two building societies. I would put between £100 and £300 in one and about the same amount in the other. I did this several times and never once let Eddie know.”
Amongst the first winners, was Cathy’s mother. The syndicate believed they were modern day Robin Hoods, who gave money to those who needed it most. Winners were found from all over Glasgow, as Eddie McChord used his taxi to find and vet suitable winners; whilst his friends, Smith, Hutton and Williamson sought winners from a network of bars and social clubs.
The inevitable tension began to affect Cathy, and she was hospitalized after a serious bout of asthma.
Even so, she continued with the fraud, as for all involved it meant a life of luxury, flash cars, foreign holidays, new houses, lavish furnishings, and expensive jewelry
Cathy bought a new taxi for her husband, a £3,500 car for herself, and made her dream move from Baillieston to an £18,000 house in the suburbs. She also had £12,000 in a building society account.
Hunter bought a gold watch and bracelet, a new Volvo and was in the process of purchasing a bungalow when caught. He had £18,000 in various building societies and £500 in his pocket when arrested.
It seemed the perfect scam, until 19-year-old, James McCreadie was chosen as one of the 67 bogus winners. For the former Tory election agent and son of a bookmaker, blew the whistle on the scam.
McCreadie had originally needed money to pay a fine of £125 for Kirkintilloch Thistle Boys soccer team, an under-13 group that he helped to run.
McCreadie was told that he could keep £200 of his £1500 winnings, but when no one contacted him to collect the rest of the money, McCreadie withdrew a further £200, and bought his grandmother a £95 television. He then withdrew a further £1,100, and spent the lot.
The turning point for ‘Greedy’ McCreadie came when he was visited by three heavies, who threatened to “Chuck him in the Clyde wearing a concrete overcoat.”
Cathy McChord was jailed for 3 years, along with her boss, Colin Hunter after both admitted defrauding Beaverbrook’s Newspapers Ltd. in Scotland of £143,500.
They also admitted a charge of attempting to defraud a further £1500 from the paper’s Place the Ball competition.
Eddie McChord admitted defrauding the Scottish Daily Express of £4,500. He was fined £1,000 or 12 months in prison.
Mrs McChord’s mother admitted 2 charges involving £3,000. Presiding Judge Lord Johnston said her part was minor and admonished her.
John Smith was fined £12,000 and 12 months in prison for defrauding the firm of £131,000. He did not ask time to pay and was taken to the cells.
Thomas Hutton admitted frauds involving £70,000, was fined £4,000 or 12 months in prison.
Donald Williamson was fined £250 or 6 months, when he admitted fraud of £16,500.
Eddie McChord, Hutton and Williamson were allowed time to pay.
After his conviction Hunter said:
“I want to make a fresh start in life when all this mess is over and I want to wipe the slate clean. I suppose I got between £1500 and £1700 of the total money, and I presume Cathy got the same.”
The police recovered only £4224 of the £143,500. £139,000 is still unaccounted for.
Together, Hunter and the McChords stole over £1million in today’s money from the Daily Express.
Sadly, this wasn’t the end of Cathy’s story, just like those misunderstood whispers that change into something different, her life took a dark, and more horrific turn, when in 1982, she was murdered by deranged killer Ian Scoular.
No suitable video for this…but here’s Archie Gemmill’s genius goal for Scotland against Holland in the 1978 World Cup
“You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.”
It’s Michael Caine as Jack Carter, intimidating a small-town gangster, Cliff Brumby, in the 1971 film, Get Carter. Within seconds, Carter has shown Brumby, played by future TV soap star Bryan Mosley, who’s boss - a quick karate chop and Brumby’s on his knees. That’s what Carter does. He’s a hardened criminal, a killer, and now he’s back home to find out who murdered his brother.
Taken from the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, Get Carter changed modern crime fiction. Firstly, it created a new genre British Noir; secondly, it kicked in the French windows at St. Mary Mead, and replaced the anaemic Miss Marple with the harsh reality of professional criminals, and the brutality of their lives, from which ever succeeding British crime writer has taken their cue.
Lewis was born in Manchester in 1940, and raised on Humberside. He showed skill as an artist and as a writer, and attended Hull Art School. In 1965, his first novel All The Way Home, and All Through The Night was published. Lewis then worked as animator on The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, before writing Jack’s Return Home. He wrote a further 7 books, including 2 more Jack Carter novels, and the classics Plender, Billy Rags and GBH. He died too soon, too early, and almost forgotten in 1982. What a fickle fucking world we live in.
At its heart, Jack’s Return Home was in part inspired by a real-life killing that took place during the height of the swinging sixties.
In August 1967, criminal Angus Sibbett bullet-riddled body was found in his Mark Ten Jaguar under Pesspool Bridge, County Durham. Sibbett was a bag man involved in extortion and collecting slot machine money.
Sibbett was employed by notorious, North-East gangster Vincent Landa, a man considered “more important than the Prime Minister”. Sibbett worked with London criminal Dennis Stafford and Landa’s brother, Michael Luvaglio. Luvaglio had no previous convictions, but Stafford, who went under an alias, had served a 7 year sentence for possession of a firearm, and had notoriously escaped from Dartmoor and Wandsworth prisons, eventually fleeing to Newcastle, where he set up a company, which was a front for fraudulent activities.
When Sibbett was discovered creaming off Landa’s takings - pocketing £1,000 a week - he was killed.
It seemed an open-and-shut case. The police came after the gang: Landa fled the country, while Stafford and Luvaglio were arrested for Sibbett’s murder. But both men claimed their innocence. However, they were tried, found guilty and sentenced to gaol.
Stafford believed he was charged because of his previous activities whilst on the run in Newcastle, and has since stated, “If it had not been for me, Michael would never have been charged.”
While Luvaglio has said: “When I was arrested, the police told me that I only had to say that Stafford had left me for a while that night and I would go free.”
In hindsight, the whole case seemed like a fit up, as the evidence against both men was flimsy to non-existent. Importantly eye-witness statements and forensic evidence, which could have cleared both men, was ignored.
On that fateful night, Sibbett was to meet Stafford and Luvaglio in The Birdcage nightclub in Newcastle. Eyewitnesses vouched for both men, apart from a period of 45-minutes around midnight - the time Sibbett was murdered. This 45-minute window proved crucial, as the police claimed Stafford and Luvaglio had left the nightclub, driven 16 miles, pushed Sibbett’s vehicle off the road, then pumped 3 bullets into him, before returning to the club.
In 1967, even in a souped-up cop car, traveling at full-speed, lights flashing, it wasn’t possible to do what was claimed. But it didn’t matter. Luvaglio and Stafford were set for punishment. It was a warning to any other London criminals (most notably London’s notorious Kray twins) against moving their operations north.
Stafford served 12 years but always insisted his innocence, claiming a Scottish shooter committed the crime. This was confirmed in a TV documentary by John Tumblety, who said on camera that he in fact had driven the real murderer back from Pesspool Bridge to the Birdcage club and that man was neither Luvaglio nor Stafford.
In May 2002 Sibbett’s slaying (now renamed The Get Carter Murder) made news when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British Home Secretary had kept Dennis Stafford in jail longer than was necessary and ordered £28,000 compensation to be paid.
To this day, both men continue to campaign to clear their names of the crime they didn’t commit
In Get Carter the film’s slot machine king was played by playwright, John Osborne, whose character Cyril Kinnear, lives in Dryerdale Hall, Durham, the very building Landa used as his gangland HQ.
In 2002 Landa said :
“The two (Stafford & Luvaglio) men were wrongly convicted and the evidence was incorrect. If they were tried today they would never have been found guilty. It was a political trial. The Home Office had suffered at the hands of gangs like the Krays and the Richardsons and they stepped in to smash what they thought was an organised crime ring.”
These aren’t the only characters Lewis adapted for his novel, and later the film. Property developer Cliff Brumby was a hybrid of Newcastle City councillor, T. Dan Smith and architect John Poulson. Both men were notorious in the sixties, and were later found guilty of bribery, corruption and giving backhanders to MPs and councillors in order to have shoddy building plans passed.
The pair destroyed most of Newcastle and built cheap concrete housing and offices. At the trial, the judge said that the scandal “now couples corruption with the north east.” So far reaching were their underhand activities that Conservative Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling resigned over the scandal.
Smith was accused of infiltrating councils across the North of England and corruptly forcing them to give business to architect John Poulson. Smith used £500,000 of Poulson’s money as bribes. Smith ruled with an iron hand and was described as a “demagogue”. He ended his life championing pensioners’ rights from the 14th floor council flat in a block he had built.
Get Carter was a flop on its release, described by critics as “soulless and nastily erotic…virtuoso viciousness”, a “sado-masochistic fantasy”, that “one would rather wash one’s mouth out with soap than recommend it.” Since then Get Carter has become arguably the greatest British crime film ever made.
As Seagal himself asserts in the accompanying clip, “This is not a joke. This is real police officers down here, in life-and-death situations.” I’ll wait and see, though, if he’ll be resolving those situations with just his “gaze and his gestures.”