UK's youngest convicted hacker and youth work by Cal Leeming

Context of Author

For over a decade, Cal has been a security advisor and systems architect for some of the most disruptive and successful startups in Silicon Valley. As an ex-hacker, Cal was arrested at 12 years old under the Computer Misuse Act, a story which has been covered by Vice Magazine and BBC. Cal has been a guest speaker at conferences across the world, and is now a security advisor/instructor. In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, flying and photography.




As a young teenager I got into computer hacking. I spent most of my teenage years excluded from formal education. I found support in the form of a youth work project and developed a relationship of trust and respect with the youth work team. Over time I got into higher levels of hacking, credit card details theft, 100’s of thousands of pounds of theft, arrested and jailed. Eventually I turned my life around and started to work for companies in the computing world.

Story in Full

A youth worker that I was involved with as a kid suggested that my story might be of interest. Growing up I was constantly getting into trouble, not because of anti-social behaviour, but because of computer hacking and general disobedience at school. The school was not giving me the proper care and attention that I needed, and by the time I was 13/14 years of age I had been expelled permanently. I was then referred to ‘The Venue’ where I met Nik Paddison, Colin Bell and Sharon Lewis. Although I was still very young and naturally did not really understand/appreciate what was being done for me, the work and advice that everyone at The Venue provided has stayed with me. Sadly this alone was not enough to stop me pursuing a life of crime, and it wasn't until the age of 18 that I turned my life around. 

I still remember The Venue as being a really positive experience, they provided me with the attention and care that I so desperately needed as a young person and showed a genuine interest in what I was doing and always treated me with respect.

It is great to raise more awareness about youth work and show just how important it is. The problem for me with the formal education system today is that there is a systematic failing to properly care and teach children and young people – particularly those who don't fit neatly into the ‘box’. Schools are treated more like a meat farm than a place of learning, and the approach of teaching 30+ children in one setting is a very flawed one, for much the same reasons as universities, it requires each individual to be engaged and interested. I honestly think that if we had more one-on-one groups like The Venue, as well as whole family unit support for dysfunctional or broken families, we would see a huge impact in the world. But sadly the politicians who govern the education and youth world don't take such basic problems into consideration...

I actually lost contact with both Nik, Colin and Sharon for almost 15 years, but I always remembered their first names. After much searching, I was able to reach out to them again on Facebook. It's really nice to speak to them after so many years, and although it may not have instantly stopped me from breaking the law, the work they did has stayed with me forever and left me with a very positive experience. Out of all the people who worked with me as a young person, they were by far the most respectful and considerate of them all, even if I didn't appreciate it that much the time... reflection and hindsight is a great thing :)

Several people have written about my transition from the criminal world, including Vice Magazine, and you can read more about this in the following links.


TV interviews:

* BBC Who's Watching You (2009) -

* BBC Inside Out (2008) -

* BBC Inside Out interview (2008) -

* ITN news interview (2007) - /