Barrister disbarred for eavesdropping on solicitor

Click to follow

A senior barrister who used his car radio to tune in to private telephone conversations made by a wealthy solicitor involved in a dispute over a Kent stately home has been disbarred.

A senior barrister who used his car radio to tune in to private telephone conversations made by a wealthy solicitor involved in a dispute over a Kent stately home has been disbarred.

Barry Payton, a former chief executive of Wandsworth Council, admitted parking his car outside the home of solicitor David Rosling and eavesdropping on two telephone calls.

The tribunal heard how on one occasion Mr Payton, his junior barrister in the case, his client and his client's father were all sitting in his car listening to Mr Rosling's private conversation.

The next day the barrister used the information to cross-examine Mr Rosling in Tunbridge Wells County Court on behalf of his client, David Pinnegar, a former councillor and owner of Hammerwood Park, a stately home near East Grinstead. Eventually he was stopped by the trial judge who warned him he was attempting to give his own evidence in court. His conduct was later reported to the Council of the Inns of Court.

Mr Payton, a one-time parliamentary candidate and a Peterborough City Councillor until last year, admitted driving the party to the house. He said he knew cordless or analogue phones were "not secure"and that they worked on the medium wave-band.

He added that after parking the car 20 yards from the Rosling home he moved the tuner to the end of the dial. "I have to tell you to my surprise we picked up the first of two telephone conversations," he said.

Mr Payton, a senior planning barrister for 50 years, told the disciplinary tribunal that he believed the solicitor was being derogatory about his client. Mr Rosling, a senior partner of a London law firm, denied that he had been rude about the Pinnegars on the phone although he accepted his comments may have been "slightly derogatory". He said the main purpose of the phone calls on 5 February 1998 was to inform his secretary that the County Court case, a planning dispute with the Pinnegars, was going well.

But Mr Payton insisted the reason Mr Rosling was bringing the complaint against him was to pursue his dispute with the Pinnegars who had upset local residents over the public access to the newly refurbished stately home. Mr Payton said that Mr Rosling and a number of other residents thought the Pinnegars had "bullied" them over the public access to Hammerwood Park.

The tribunal unanimously found Mr Payton guilty of all three offences of professional misconduct.

Jonathan Watts-Pringle, for the professional conduct committee, said that Mr Payton had been suspended from the Bar in 1981 after magistrates found him guilty of using threatening words and behaviour and driving a car on a footpath. In 1990 he was admonished by the former chairman of the Bar, Gareth Williams QC, now Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Attorney General, after he threatened solicitors with criminal proceedings.

Judge Coltart told Mr Payton: "We take the view that you are wholly unsuitable to continue in practice at the Bar." He added: "This hearing has amply demonstrated to us your complete lack of judgment and your evidence has convinced us that you are still harbouring a belief that your behaviour was not improper and in some way justified."

The judge said during the hearing that there was evidence of "ill-feeling within the hamlet of Hammerwood between the Pinnegars on the one side and the other residents on the other". The dispute has been running for 14 years and began when the Pinnegars opened Hammerwood Park to the public in the1980s, having acquired it from the rock band Led Zeppelin.

Hammerwood Park was built in 1792 by the architect BH Latrobe, who also designed the Capitol Building in Washington DC.