THE Bolton businessman at the helm of a controversial fax firm has been fined £1,000 by the premium telephone watchdog.

But the defiant boss of Planet Telecom plc, Mr Peter Hutcheon, has declared war on the monitoring body, ICSTIS, by refusing to pay up.

The company, which has hit the headlines in both local and national press with its controversial fax opinion polls, was fined by ICSTIS - the Independent Committee of the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services - for using a higher tariff service without permission.

However, Mr Hutcheon claims the higher tariff was used for only around 300 faxes as a result of a mistake, which was corrected as soon as it came to light.

The fax poll in question centred around the Louise Woodward case and asked recipients to vote on the "correct" verdict. As reported in the BEN, it was the first of several contentious fax polls sent out.

It was followed by polls on whether Myra Hindley should be released from prison, and one inviting views on castrating paedophiles.

Despite criticism from members of the public and the press for his controversial polls, Mr Hutcheon remains unrepentant.

He said: "In our polls we aim to give out a balanced viewpoint. Our polls are no more offensive than those in the tabloid papers which tend to give a biased view.

"With the Myra Hindley poll for example, we were told by ICSTIS that they had received four complaints - but this was out of the half a million people who must have seen the fax." The £1,000 fine imposed by ICSTIS was not the result of the content of the fax, which asked people to vote on whether nanny Louise Woodward was guilty or not, but because a certain number were sent out operating on a higher tariff service, without prior permission.

Mr Hutcheon said: "It was a complete mistake and only about 300 were sent out on the higher tariff. As soon as the mistake came to light, we reverted to our £1 a minute number which does not require prior permission.

"When ICSTIS contacted me I told them this and even said I would give a refund to anyone who had complained about receiving the higher tariff fax.

"I explained this and was told 'okay', but then got a fine for £1,000 and was told I had to pay costs of several hundred pounds. I am not paying it because I do not think it is fair.

"It is totally out of proportion. If I was a criminal and mugged an old lady, I would not be fined that much."

A spokesman for ICSTIS said: "I can confirm that the £1,000 fine is still outstanding, and as a result we did recommend that the telephone network involved withheld all lines being used by Planet Telecom until the fine was paid. That was Torch Telecom and they did bar access."

However, he added that Cable and Wireless was currently supplying lines for Mr Hutcheon's latest paedophile fax poll.

ICSTIS is considering asking that company to pull its lines to the Bolton firm. This, he said, was in addition to an ongoing investigation into the paedophile poll.

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