A Californian court has dropped criminal charges against the former chairwoman of HP, Patricia Dunn, closing a chapter in the IT giant's spy scandal case.

A Santa Clara judge ruled that the charges against Dunn and three other defendants, who pleaded no contest pleas, should be dismissed once they each complete 96 hours of community service.

Dunn resigned from her position at HP in September, following the disclosure of the company’s probe into a boardroom leak.  She instigated the internal investigation to find the source, after the firm became suspicious of private information being leaked to the press.  

Dunn, along with former chief ethics officer Kevin Hunsaker, ex-security contractor Ronald DeLia and investigator Joseph DePante, were charged on various counts including conspiracy, unauthorised access to computer data and identity fraud.

The HP scandal began in 2005 when the company’s board became wary of personal records being divulged to journalists. Private investigator Brian Wagner was hired by the company in an attempt to find out which boardroom member was passing on the information to the media.  

The 29-year-old PI admitted that he was part of a conspiracy that used “fraud and deceit” to gain social security numbers and other confidential information in order to obtain the telephone records of an HP director, several reporters and their family members.  Although used by many investigators the practice, known as pretexting, is prohibited in California because it breaches identity theft and computer data laws.

Dunn has always maintained that she didn’t know anything about the tactics used by Wagner to discover the source of the leak.

Former HP director George Keyworth was eventually uncovered as the source.  He resigned once the revelation became public.