HACKERS who snooped on a rival company in a plot to pinch its confidential data have been sentenced for their “cynical disregard” for the law.

Bosses at Kidlington-based I.T security company Quadsys and two staff members admitted spying on their competitor to try and undercut their enemy and win contracts with clients.

Oxford Crown Court heard directors Alistair Barnard, Paul Cox and Paul Streeter, along with employees Steve Davies and Jonathan Townsend, accessed hundreds of personal emails to grab hold of the confidential information.

Their victim Donna Buckingham, co-director of rival Cassington-based company IT Bus Limited (ITB), was dubbed “Cruella” by them during their four-month operation.

Sentencing yesterday, Recorder Anna Laney told the defendants wrongdoing was “endemic” in their office, adding: “You decided to take the law into your own hands for an eye for an eye mentality.”

Prosecutor Peter Coombe told the court Cox “fell out” with former boss Mrs Buckingham about cash he believed he was owed after she sold her business Direct Sales Agency in 2007.

He said Quadsys was set up the following year, providing I.T security and support services to its clients, which included Dell and Macintosh.

Mr Coombe said ITB technical manager Davies had “extensive knowledge and access” to the company’s system but resigned in 2013.

But he told the Quadsys directors in a job interview he remembered the passwords to access ITB’s system.

The prosecutor said Davies used his insider knowledge of ITB to share confidential material with the other defendants after he was employed as Quadsys’ accounts manager.

Mr Coombe added: “The prosecution say it is clear that each of theses defendants were equally involved in this enterprise.”

The court heard it was discovered computers at Kidlington Library has been used to access Mrs Buckingham’s and staff members’ emails.

Mr Coombe went on to say it was also uncovered the company’s system had been logged into more than 500 times from “remote” locations.

The prosecutor said a former Quadsys employee revealed he caught the three directors talking about Mrs Buckingham in “derogatory” terms in the office, having daily chats about ITB.

The defendants only halted their offending after their rival changed its passwords.

Police raided the Quadsys site last March, seizing electrical equipment and hard copies of IT Bus Limited’s accounts found there, also finding thousands of files relating to ITB on Barnard’s computer.

Helen Valley, defending, Barnard, of Kingsway Cottages, Bampton Road, Aston, said he was “blinkered” during his offending but now regretted his actions.

Simon Pentol, defending Cox, of Acremead Road, Wheatley, said there was a “laddish” attitude within the office which the defendant felt embarrassed and ashamed of.

Sarah Vine, defending Davies, of Bessels Way, Blewbury, said his client handed over ITB’s passwords after wanting to put himself in “good stead” with his employers, adding he accepted responsibility for the offending.

Osman Osman, defending Streeter, of Blakes Avenue, Witney, blamed the press for waging a campaign to “destroy” Quadsys after reporting on the police raid and court proceedings, claiming it was in favour of other cases and had led to the loss of two main clients of Quadsys.

Edmund Gritt, defending technical administrator Townsend, of Pensclose, Witney, went on to tell the court he did not have a leading role in the plot.

Barnard, 39, Cox, 41, and Streeter, 41, were all handed 10-month sentences, suspended for two years, ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work and pay £1,657 costs.

They were handed a one-year ban from being a director of any company in England and Wales.

Davies, 35, was handed a nine-month sentence, suspended for two years with 150 hours unpaid work, while Townsend, 37, was given a one-year community order with 275 hours unpaid work.

All five, who admitted obtaining unauthorised access to computer material to facilitate commission of an offence between August and December 2013, must pay a victim surcharge and abide by a curfew.