The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has slapped a hefty £440,000 fine on the owners of Tetrus Telecoms for harassing the public with hundreds and thousands of spam texts a day over the past three years.

This is the first time that the ICO has used its power to issue a monetary penalty for a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), since the powers were approved in January 2012.

It is also investigating three other companies believed to be acting in breach of the PECR and may be issuing more fines in the coming months.

“The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law,” said Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

“In March we set up a survey on the ICO website so people can tell us about any unwanted texts and calls they have been receiving. So far we have received over 60,000 responses.”

He added: “We know the majority of these messages and calls have been made by companies who try to remain anonymous in the hope they can profit by selling personal information to claims management companies and other marketing organisations. We are using the information provided by the public to identify those responsible.”

The ICO has been investigating Tetrus Telecoms for 18 months, which is jointly owned by Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish.

The pair been sending huge volumes – sometimes as many as 840,000 a day – of unsolicited text messages from offices in Stockport and Birmingham for years, without the consent of the recipient and without identifying the sender.

Any replies were then used to generate leads that were sold to other companies at a considerable profit. 

Tetrus made an income of between £7,000 and £8,000 a day, and the owners made hundreds of thousands of pounds in profits during the operation.

Niebel has been ordered to pay a penalty of £300,000, while McNeish, who appears to have taken less out of the business, has fined £140,000.

The Information Commissioner continued: “The two individuals we have served penalties on today made a substantial profit from the sale of personal information. They knew they were breaking the law and the trail of evidence uncovered by my office highlights the scale of their operations.

“We will continue to work with the relevant authorities as well as the network providers to ensure companies like this are punished. We’re also working with the Ministry of Justice to target claims management companies who purchase this information breaching the industry regulations, the Data Protection Act, as well as electronic marketing regulations.”

He added: “Our message to the public is that if you don’t know who sent you a text message then do not respond, otherwise your details may be used to generate profits for these unscrupulous individuals. Together we can put an end to this unlawful industry that continues to plague our daily lives.”