24 November 2023

Ofcom investigation helps to convict man for amateur radio interference

Investigations carried out by Ofcom’s spectrum experts have helped to secure the conviction of a man who was deliberately causing harmful interference to amateur radio users in and around Hull.

In February 2021 we received complaints from radio amateurs in the area, who told us they had been subjected to deliberate interference of their transmissions, as well as receiving abusive messages. The culprit had been using radio bands illegally to do this, as he didn’t have a licence to do so.

We were required to intervene in this case because the illegal activity was significant and targeted, and it was suspected that the culprit was somebody who had previously been convicted of similar activity.

The investigation involved using automatic monitoring equipment as well as our engineers working on the ground,  monitoring live transmissions. This provided a picture of the of the impact of the illegal transmissions on the local radio community. All of this work took place in close collaboration with local police.

Through this investigation work, we confirmed that the source of the interference was coming from one particular address, which enabled us to execute a search warrant at the address. Radio equipment was seized that had been used to receive and transmit on the frequencies that were targeted with the harmful interference.

The defendant failed to cooperate with our investigation, and didn’t offer an account of what had happened in this case, despite being given the opportunity to do so.

The case went to court, where earlier this month the defendant was found guilty of unlicensed use of radio equipment, illegal possession of radio apparatus, and causing deliberate interference to wireless telegraphy – all of which are offences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

In a later sentencing hearing, he was sentenced to 26 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.

There have been no further instances of interference, jamming or abuse on these amateur radio frequencies since the beginning of September 2021.

Iain O'Brien, head of spectrum compliance at Ofcom's spectrum group, said: “Amateur radio community users in the Hull area faced significant disruption after their transmissions were deliberately targeted. We are pleased with this result, which should provide some welcome relief to the local radio community, as well as send a very strong signal to those that abuse the airwaves.”

Why did Ofcom investigate this case?

As the communications regulator, one of Ofcom’s functions is the effective management of the radio spectrum, the licensing of which is a key tool to make sure users are correctly authorised and to protect users from harmful interference . This is done primarily by licensing users and allocating frequencies.

Installing and using radio equipment  without a licence or which is exempt from requiring one, is a criminal offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, which also makes it unlawful to deliberately interfere with other radio equipment.

Amateur radio is used by hobbyists who use equipment on specific, allocated frequencies to communicate with each other - sometimes around the world. Radio amateurs in the UK require a licence, issued by Ofcom, to transmit and receive on their allocated frequencies. On the whole, radio amateurs abide by the terms and conditions of their licences.

Misusing radio equipment and amateur bands is usually done deliberately to disrupt other users. This interference blocks the channel for other users in the area, and in some cases can involve offensive or threatening language to disrupt legal users, force them off air, and stop them enjoying their hobby. Most of the perpetrators are also unlicenced.

This particular case is an example of this deliberate interference, and took place across several amateur radio bands.

While Ofcom assesses all reports of spectrum non-compliance, not all of these result in an investigation. This case was an extreme incident which required our involvement.

Find out more about our approach to spectrum compliance cases and enforcement.

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