SOFTWARE giant Microsoft has admitted it may have made a mistake in accusing a Wirral man of flooding the internet with junk e-mails.
Lawyers for Bill Gates' computer company have requested a meeting with Simon Grainger, a 43-year-old engineer from Wirral, to discuss his claims of mistaken identity.
The firm last night said it will apologise and pay all Mr Grainger's legal costs if an internal investigation discovered it attempted to sue the wrong man.
Last week Microsoft announced it had issued a writ against Mr Grainger, along with a man believed to be from the Southport area and 13 people in the US, for being persistent distributors of so-called "spam" messages.
They were identified following a worldwide crackdown by a team of Microsoft investigators.
Spam is unwanted e-mails which can be sent in huge volumes and can clog up e-mail in-boxes, drastically slowing corporate computer networks.
Mr Grainger, of Carr House Lane, Moreton, denies the allegations and believes Microsoft has confused him with a junk mail distributor in the US.
A statement released by Microsoft's lawyers said: "Microsoft takes Mr Grainger's claim very seriously and is open to considering any information he can provide to help resolve this matter.
"While it is premature at this point to assume Mr Grainger's claims of innocence are indeed correct, if it should be discovered the Mr Grainger is innocent, Microsoft will certainly reimburse him for any and all legal fees required for his defence.
"While Microsoft goes to great efforts when investigating these issues, it is possible to make mistakes and we are investigating now to see if this was indeed a case of mistaken identity.
"If this is the case we will indeed apologise and ensure that any inconvenience to the Graingers is addressed, including the reimbursement of any associated costs."
Mr Grainger is accused of bombarding Microsoft computer servers with e-mails to discover three million business and private e-mail addresses across the world.
The other UK defendant, believed to be a 24-year-old man from Southport, is also accused of "harvesting" e-mail addresses and is alleged to have elaborately covered his tracks by ensuring that thousands of reply e-mails were sent to a London-based anti-spam organisation.
Mr Grainger last night told the Daily Post: "I am not going to be singing and dancing until I get a retraction from Microsoft and a full apology.
"This has been horrible. There has been a lot of stress for both me and my family. It is terrible to have something like this hanging over your head."
Mr Grainger's solicitor, Birkenhead-based Brian Heyes, said: "We are clearly hoping that this is a change in their attitude.
"If they throw the towel at an early stage then the costs will not be that high. The longer they leave it the more it will cost Mr Grainger and the more he will look to recover.
"Having said that I'm sure it's a drop in the ocean for Microsoft and I'm sure Bill Gates will be able to afford it."
Mr Grainger's campaign to clear his name has received the backing of the World's biggest anti-spamming organisation, Spamhaus.
Director Steve Lindford said: "This statement does seem to be saying 'yes we have got the wrong guy and we do not want him to suffer any more for it'.
"It is a bit embarrassing for Microsoft because it was a global campaign where they identified 15 spammers world wide. We hope this will not put them off from pursuing spammers."