A hospital worker from Northern Ireland who collected information from the patient records of politicians, senior military and police personnel, prison officers, members policing boards and loyalists was jailed for six years earlier this month.

Belfast Crown Court Judge Mr Justice Higgins told Ciaran James Cunningham that it was “difficult to think of a more invidious and cynical breach of the trust" that the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital had placed in him.

He said that the 29-year-old north Belfast man had abused his position as a transit clerk by “accessing improperly" the patient records to get addresses, phone numbers and maiden names of security personnel and others not just once or twice but over a period of five months last year.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to five specimen charges of collecting information likely to be useful to terrorists and a further charge of possessing such information between February and June last year.

Mr Justice Higgins revealed that by accessing the “most confidential” patient records, which Cunningham “was not empowered to do," he could bring up onscreen a patient’s job and their spouse’s job as well as details of when the patient would be in hospital for treatment.

He said that when officers searched Cunningham’s house in July last year, they found personal details of the various people both written down on pieces of paper hidden in cassette boxes and on floppy discs, giving the case a “more sinister aspect".

The judge said that while an offence of collecting information covered a wide range of criminality, “what cannot be doubted is that terrorist organisations thrive on intelligence of this nature", using it to plan and execute violent acts.

“There is no evidence that any of these persons were subjected to any violence or harmed in any way, nor is there evidence that the information was used in any way but that is often the case for this type of offence where good police work brings the offence to light before any violence can be perpetrated," declared Mr Justice Higgins.

However, he added that although the people involved were told about their records being accessed, “I have no doubt that that was a traumatic experience for each of them".

Mr Justice Higgins further revealed that “at least" one of the people Cunningham researched had been forced to move house.

As he was led to the cells to begin his jail term, Cunningham waved and smiled at his family and friends in the public gallery of the court.

A spokeswoman for the hospital told E-Health Insider after the verdict: “Over a quarter of a million people go through the doors of the Royal Hospitals every year and most have information about them stored on our IT databases.

“As a result of this breach of security, all staff with access to information have a unique username and password.  This control protects staff from viewing information that they shouldn’t and, combined with systems controls, patients can be reassured that their information is securely held within the Royal.”

Court reporting by Paul Higgins,  M&M News Services, Belfast