A founder of an accountancy firm claimed his ex-employee committed a gross breach of trust by copying client data.
Angus Nicolson stated Liam McCreath, 36, took data belonging to 60 to 80 clients of Nicolson Accountancy in Glasgow in September 2020.
The 60-year-old told a court that information such as spreadsheets and payroll information had been transferred from the company’s server to McCreath’s Dropbox.
Mr Nicolson stated that he had become aware that practice manager McCreath had set up his own tax company meantime.
He claimed that the “highly sensitive information” allegedly taken by McCreath would be enough to work for clients straight away.
The witness added that it took two attempts after seeking legal advice to get the files back.
McCreath is on trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court accused of knowingly or recklessly obtained personal details without the knowledge of the company’s data controller.
It is alleged McCreath removed a quantity of files from their office in the city’s Kelvinbridge related to people employed by Nicolson Accountancy and their clients.
McCreath, of Paisley denies the single charge.
The court heard from retired Mr Nicolson who formed the firm after moving to Glasgow from Stornoway.
Mr Nicolson stated that he hired McCreath in 2015 to be a tax manager before becoming a practice manager.
He said: “We felt he fitted under the ethos of the practice.”
Mr Nicolson claimed his relationship “deteriorated severely” with McCreath in March 2020.
The witness stated that McCreath advertised the business on a website to bid for accounting work without permission.
Mr Nicolson added: “We felt that he was trying to do too much in the practice and wished him to focus on completing tax returns.
“We were filing 1,100 to 1,300 tax returns each year which is a heavy workload and we needed to be on top of it.
“We wanted him to focus on that rather than other aspects of the business.”
Mr Nicolson stated that McCreath involved himself in areas such as the accountancy side when he did not have sufficient skills.
The witness told the court that the business worked remotely following the pandemic.
Staff monitoring software was put on the company’s server.
Mr Nicolson said McCreath meantime had meetings with clients outside of work.
He added that he was “dissatisfied” with McCreath’s performance when it came to work being done.
Mr Nicolson claimed he gave McCreath time off work in September 2020.
He said: “We hoped he would be able to recover his mojo and be able to get back and do the work.”
Mr Nicolson stated that he found that McCreath had set up his own tax company as well as a Facebook page.
The witness was able to look into the work emails of McCreath.
He said: “What concerned me was I could see people getting taken on apparently as Nicolson Accountancy but they did not appear on our client list.
“The client appeared to be engaging with Nicolson Accountancy.
“This caused me concern from a professional insurance point of view.”
Mr Nicolson stated that he became aware that data had been transferred from the company’s server to a Dropbox controlled by McCreath.
The witness claimed that he could see that the information had been accessed by McCreath at 5.30am.
Prosecutor Redmond Harris asked what type of information had been accessed.
Mr Nicolson replied: “Client files and they were transferred to a system that was out with the control of the firm.”
This included spreadsheets, payroll and client accounting information as well as supporting documents.
He added: “Potentially the full accounting details of the individual clients and full tax information, bank details, details of transactions that they may have had…a lot of highly sensitive information.”
Mr Nicolson claimed that the total amount of information taken was 600 to 700 individual files.
He said: “It was very apparent that any such information could be used to provide full accounting services to potential clients.
“There was enough there to start working for these clients straight away.”
Mr Nicolson stated that McCreath’s employment was termanated.
Mr Harris asked why and witness responded: “On the grounds that this was a gross breach of trust.”
Mr Nicolson claimed he took legal advice and negotiated an exit agreement as well as a return of the files.
The witness stated that he did not receive all of the files and had to ask for a second lot to be sent.
Mr Harris asked how many companies were involved.
Mr Nicolson replied: “I estimate 60 to 80 – this does not include the employees and employers.”
Mr Nicolson told the court that his wife initially contacted the police.
He said: “We were concerned after the first upload that we had everything returned.
“After the second upload, we were told the same thing.
“We were concerned that this might not be correct.”
Andrew Murphy, defending, put it to the witness that his client resigned which he agreed.
He said: “I suggest having got what you wanted, maybe it was as an act of revenge to go to the police to go the police anyway?”
Mr Nicolson replied: “I think you are grossly mischaracterising that.”
The advocate later suggested to the witness that he was “full of glib answers from the beginning.”
Mr Nicolson said: “I refute that.”
The trial continues at the end of the month before Sheriff Valerie Mays.