AN EDINBURGH University student was acquitted yesterday on three

charges under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Mr Paul Bedworth, 19, smiled after the jury returned unanimous not

guilty verdicts. He was alleged to have cost institutions thousands of

pounds by hacking into their computer systems.

The court was told he began hacking when he was 14 using a BBC

microcomputer given to him as a Christmas present.

His activities were said to have cost the Financial Times more than

#20,000 and the Brussels-based European Organisation for the Research

and Treatment of Cancer #10,000 in telephone bills.

Mr Bedworth, of Ilkley, Yorkshire, denied conspiracy to obtain

telecommunications services dishonestly, conspiracy to cause

unauthorised modification in computer material, and conspiracy to secure

unauthorised access to computer material.

Karl Strickland, 22, from Liverpool, and Neil Woods, 26, from Oldham,

admitted similar conspiracy charges. They will be sentenced at a later


Outside court Mr Bedworth said: ''I am very relieved that it is all

over. I was surprised it was so quick. I thought the jury was behind


He emphasised he no longer did any hacking and claimed the police made

''a lot more fuss of it than they needed to. It was a great big show

trial. They didn't need to put the effort into it as they did.''

His solicitor, Ms Deborah Tripley, said in a statement that Mr

Bedworth got a computer at the age of 11 and started hacking when he was

14 -- before the Computer Misuse Act came into force.

''As an unusually bright boy, his computer presented the ideal

intellectual challenge. It began to absorb all his free time.''

The statement added: ''His behaviour was obsessive and compulsive. He

thought he was harmless but he found he couldn't draw himself away from

his computer activities. He was addicted.''

Mr Bedworth's mother Connie said computer addiction could become a

growing problem for families. ''It is very difficult for parents to know

what to do. I didn't know what to do.''

Mr Bedworth will return to Ilkley for a short break before resuming up

his studies at Edinburgh University at the start of the new term.

Police are due to hand back confiscated hardware and software he used

during his time as a hacker.

At the age of 16, and working at home, Paul Bedworth tutored himself

to an A grade pass in computer studies, then went on to gain three more

A levels at school -- two more grade As and a grade B.

He went to Edinburgh University to study artificial intelligence -- an

advanced form of computing -- and professors discovered he was so

brilliant that they put him straight into the second year of the course.

The student made no real friends, and devoted all of his time to

electronic relationships.

Britain's leading expert on addiction last night said Mr Bedworth was

suffering from ''monstrous'' mental problems. He was gripped with an

addiction so strong that he could not help what he was doing, said

psychiatrist Professor James Griffith-Edwards.

The professor of addiction at London University's National Addiction

Centre, said Mr Bedworth was fired by an obsession similar to those

suffered by compulsive gamblers or anorexics.

The problem was ''something very nasty and pathological. One is

looking at a young man with monstrously abnormal behaviour. I would

classify him as suffering from a mental disorder, as distinct from a

mental illness, but a very serious one.

''He is dependent on, addicted to, computing. It is a non-chemical

dependency but he is still dependent on certain aspects of computing.''

He added: ''With Paul and his computing we are dealing with a

compulsion, a very real clinical state in the case of this young man --

a psychiatric abnormality.

''There is irrationality, there is a sense of drive, this is


Professor Griffith-Edwards said Mr Bedworth's hacking began as the

hobby of an inquisitive teenager but soon changed into something more


He became bored by computer games and school work and so turned to the

thrills of trying to break into databanks around the world.

But he revealed that after successfully hacking for a first time Mr

Bedworth became hooked -- ''pathalogically obsessed'' -- with breaking

into new computers.

Professor Griffith-Edwards went on: ''He was suffering from internal

duress, the needs of his compulsion flooded out his normal motivation.

''No other problems offered the same intellectual stimulus. This was

something of a different level of magnitude, an intellectual challenge

which obsessed him.

''We are looking at a young man who denied himself any other form of

social life, who sat at his computer in a darkened room hour after hour,

night after night. The sheer intensity of his involvement and the utter

lack of any conventional motivation stands out.''

Although Mr Bedworth stopped hacking after his arrest in April 1991

his involvement with computers as a student concerns the professor.

''He is a young man of quite unusual and outstanding intelligence but

there is something very abnormal about him. I would still be extremely

worried about him, he has little or no social life such as enjoyed by

others of his age and has severe problems in evolving any kind of