London - Gordon Ramsay’s father-in-law was jailed on Thursday for hacking into the chef’s emails to dig up dirt.
Chris Hutcheson broke into personal files to get back at the TV star after being thrown out of Ramsay’s lucrative business empire.
The 69-year-old, whose daughter Tana married Ramsay in 1996, conspired with his sons Adam, 47, and Chris Jr, 37, to rifle through the chef’s accounts almost 2 000 times, searching emails and company computer systems.
Hutcheson was jailed for six months, while his sons were given four-month suspended sentences.
Passing sentence at the Old Bailey, Judge John Bevan QC said: "The whole episode amounts to an unattractive and unedifying example of dirty linen being washed in public."
"By seeking deliberately to get Mr Ramsay into serious trouble, it demonstrates the gravity of what was going on. These emails were unsurprisingly embarrassing, damaging and personally distressing to Mr Ramsay."
Ramsay, 50, once said he and his father-in-law were inseparable, and made Hutcheson chief executive of his business empire.
For 12 years the pair ran his restaurant business side by side, but in 2010 simmering tensions over missing money and serial womanising led to Hutcheson being sacked – sparking a family feud.
Julian Christopher QC, prosecuting, said: ‘For a period of five months following the dismissal… he repeatedly accessed the company computer network for the email accounts of Mr Ramsay and Mrs Ramsay and a number of employees of the company in order to obtain material that might embarrass Mr Ramsay or be useful in the ongoing dispute.’
He said personal items were taken, including photos ‘provided to the Press which led to considerable intrusion into the privacy of the family’.
On just one day in February 2011, Hutcheson hacked the system 600 times while his son Adam did so 282 times. When they were found out, Hutcheson emailed Chris Jr saying: "Guess we have been rumbled. Bit late though."
In April Hutcheson, who lives in France, Adam, a wind turbine firm director from Kent, and Chris Jr, of Hertfordshire, admitted conspiring to unlawfully access the computer system of Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd and email accounts of its employees. Their convictions come after a series of civil court disputes.
During a toxic High Court battle in 2011 Ramsay accused his one-time mentor of hacking his personal and company files and plundering £1.42million to fund a secret second family.
He claimed Hutcheson had used company funds to give his mistress £5 000 a month, put his wife and son Adam on the payroll and write himself £20 000 cheques when the firm was in dire straits.
Tana, 42, who has four children with Ramsay, severed ties with her parents after finding out her father had kept his second family secret from her for 30 years.
Specialists found stolen passwords had been used to access Ramsay’s files using a computer in the basement of the company’s Westminster headquarters, from which so-called ‘key logger’ software was launched to record passwords as they were typed.
Prosecutors believe Hutcheson suspected Ramsay had leaked a photo of his mistress Sara Stewart as he hacked into an email called ‘Sara Stewart: Defence’.
In 2012 the pair reached a £2million truce after settling the High Court claim, but the matter was reported to Scotland Yard.
Judge Bevan said on Thursday that the Ramsays ‘no longer support the prosecution’.
He said: ‘The family’s desire to put an end to the confrontations of the last seven years or so, and seek reconciliation, is to be encouraged.
‘The falling out which occurred was prolonged and bitter. But the rights and wrongs of that are no concern of this court. Doubtless blame lies in all directions. But my focus must be solely on the aspects of the criminal offence, computer misuse, or hacking.’