Civil servant mined cryptocurrency on Government property during height of Covid pandemic

A civil servant at the UK’s nuclear energy research body resigned after mining cryptocurrency on Government property during the height of the Covid pandemic, employment tribunal papers reveal.

According to documents from the case, a mechanical engineer at the UK’s national laboratory for fusion research used Government property to mine cryptocurrency between December 2019 and June 2020.

Karl Beacham, from Abingdon, had worked at the facility for several years as a contractor and later as a full-time staff member of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). He worked at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which leads on nuclear energy research.

When i contacted Mr Beacham, he said he had been mining Litecoin and claimed that management had initially given him permission to mine cryptocurrency on site but that this was withdrawn at a later date.

Investigations began into Mr Beacham’s actions after an anonymous email was sent to the agency’s Chief Operating Officer, disclosing that machinery had been plugged in and was mining cryptocurrency on site.

Cryptocurrency mining is very energy intensive, with the global industry using up around half of the UK’s entire energy consumption per year.

Employee testimony during the tribunal detailed how staff at the Government quango had enquired about the loud noises being made by the miner.

Forbes previously estimated it would cost around £10,000 a year to run certain cryptocurrency mining hardware.

According to details disclosed in the employment tribunal, Mr Beacham was first found to be mining cryptocurrencies at the facility in 2019, and the hardware was shut down by Mr Beacham on 15 June 2020, shortly after workers at the UKAEA returned to the office following lockdown.

The mining equipment was stored on site by Mr Beacham, including several of his other possessions including an electric bike.

He had several conversations with other staff members about the cryptocurrency machinery and was told that it would need to be removed.

Mr Beacham’s line manager was first told of the crypto miners in December 2019, and that they were “plugged into the respondent’s electricity system”.

When the line manager went to inspect, the systems were gone. However, he discovered them again in early 2020 and instructed Mr Beacham to move them.

The employment tribunal case was initiated after Mr Beacham resigned, claiming detriment. He claimed that the investigation into the cryptocurrency mining was triggered by his disclosures about people breaking Covid-19 protocol shortly after the first national lockdown.

UKAEA management had launched an informal investigation into his use of cryptocurrency mining software on Government property following an anonymous email, which later evolved into a formal investigation.

In February of this year, an employment judge dismissed Mr Beacham’s claim that his complaints over not following coronavirus protocol had any role in the cryptocurrency investigation.

The tribunal also found that “if the disciplinary procedure had progressed, it is likely that the respondent would have accepted that the claimant’s conduct did not justify his dismissal”.

In response to questions from i, Mr Beacham said he had two devices capable of mining litecoin, a cryptocurrency worth around £60 per coin.

Mr Beacham said: “The devices didn’t connect to UKAEA’s network so no security breach ever happened.”

The UKAEA were approached for comment.