A CCTV company director and her employee who illegally accessed mortuary security camera images of footballer Emiliano Sala’s body out of “morbid curiosity” have both been jailed.
Sherry Bray, 49, and Christopher Ashford, 62, accessed the cameras at the mortuary where the Cardiff City striker’s body lay, watched the footage of the post-mortem examination and took screenshots of the images.
Images of Mr Sala – who died after joining Cardiff City in a multi-million pound transfer – were then circulated on Twitter and Instagram and were seen by members of his distraught family.
The 28-year-old Argentinian was killed when the plane he was travelling in crashed into the English Channel, north of Guernsey, on January 21.
His body was recovered on February 6 and a post-mortem examination took place at Bournemouth Borough Mortuary the following day.
Swindon Crown Court heard Bray was director of the company which monitored security cameras at the mortuary, and Ashford worked for the firm.
She had sent him a message before he started his nightshift, telling him: “There’s a nice one on the table for you to watch when you’re next in.”
Both replayed the clip during separate shifts before Bray took a picture of it on her mobile phone and sent it to her daughter on Facebook Messenger, leading to it being widely shared on social media.
Ashford let a friend photograph the screenshot he had taken, the court heard.
After realising that police were investigating, Bray deleted the file from her phone and asked Ashford to do the same.
Evidence from Bray’s phone also revealed that she had taken a picture of the body of Andrew Latcham.
Robert Welling, prosecuting, said Bray had a “pivotal role” in setting a culture at her workplace where “both she and members of staff would watch as and when autopsies were on the mortuary CCTV footage”.
A victim impact statement from Romina Sala, the footballer’s sister, said she saw pictures of her brother’s body on Instagram.
“I cannot believe there are people so wicked and evil who could do that,” she said.
“I’ll never erase those images from my head. My brother and mother can never forget about this. It’s hard for me to live with this image.”
Bray, of Corsham, and Ashford, of Calne, had previously admitted three counts of computer misuse.
Bray also admitted perverting the course of justice by instructing Ashford to “delete your pics”, deleting the post-mortem cameras from the live feed camera facility and deleting the mortuary image of Mr Sala from her phone.
Nicholas Cotter, defending Bray, said: “She fully accepts the distress and upset she’s caused.”
Thomas Horder, defending Ashford, described his actions as the “biggest mistake he has ever made”.
Judge Peter Crabtree jailed Bray for 14 months and Ashford for five months and said that he sentenced them on the basis they did not circulate the mortuary image of Mr Sala.
“So far as culpability is concerned, I accept that neither of you committed the offences you have pleaded guilty to as a consequence of any financial motive, but rather were driven by morbid curiosity and, in your case, Mr Ashford, by your interest in forensic science,” the judge said.
“You have both accepted that your deliberate accessing of the computer system, in your case, Ms Bray, to watch the autopsy of Emiliano Sala ‘live’, and in both of your cases to replay the autopsy using the playback facility was, in reality, unauthorised.
“You both well appreciated that there could have been no justification based on any ‘security’ grounds for doing so.
“You have both abused your positions and the access you had in a quite appalling way in watching the autopsies you have, and in taking the photographs and screenshots you did.
“By those actions, you both showed a level of disrespect such that if knowledge of your conduct became public, as it did, it would cause considerable harm, and risk wider promulgation of any photograph you had taken.”
The judge added that they had shown the “greatest of disrespect” to Mr Sala’s family and caused them “considerable distress”, as well as causing “significant and enduring harm” to the family of Mr Latcham.
Anthony Johns, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “It is impossible to imagine why anyone would wish to record or view these sorts of images in such a flagrant breach of confidentiality and human decency.”
Detective Inspector Gemma Vinton, from Wiltshire Police, added: “We welcome today’s sentence and believe it reflects the gravity of the crimes and the great distress caused to the families involved.”