PI ‘planted lawyer bugs’

2016-01-26 11:32
Advocate Penny Hunt arrives at the high court.

Advocate Penny Hunt arrives at the high court. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - An electronics expert testified in court on Monday that he planted a “bugging” device in the Pietermaritzburg advocates’ chambers and helped put a GPS tracker on an advocate’s car at the request of KZN advocate Penny Hunt.

Houston Wayne Impey said he had, at Hunt’s request, also removed the CCTV hard drive installed at the advocates’ chambers to copy the footage captured on the system.

Hunt had told him to plant the bugging device in the ceiling of the advocates’ chambers so she could listen to, and record, conversations in her secretary’s office, because she suspected her of leaking confidential information, he said.

He added she also required a device to “track” an advocate on whom she wanted to “get some dirt”.

Impey said it took some time to obtain the tracking device, which had to be specially ordered.

He was present when the tracker was eventually placed on a vehicle parked in the advocates’ parking area by an associate, Dennis de Beer, he said.

Impey said he did not know the identity of the advocate on whose car the device was planted.

According to court papers, the device was allegedly placed on the the vehicle of advocate Mergen Chetty SC. This followed an incident where Chetty was punched by Hunt’s husband Cameron Hunt SC, at a party in June 2010, as a result of which Chetty laid a criminal charge against him.

Impey was the first witness to testify before Bloemfontein-based judges Albert Kruger and Connie Mocume, in a case in which the Society of Advocates of KZN seeks to have Penny Hunt struck off the roll of advocates due to alleged “unethical” conduct.

Hunt is fighting back and, according to documents in the case, denies any wrongdoing. She claims she is the victim of a vendetta against her and her husband by Pietermaritzburg Bar Committee members, in particular the former chairperson, Adrian Rall SC.

Impey, who has been indemnified from criminal prosecution by the office of the director of public prosecutions for his role in the matter, was warned by the judges that the civil proceedings are separate, and that he was not forced to answer questions that would incriminate him in any crimes.

However, he told the court he felt “comfortable” to give evidence.

Later, under cross-examination by Advocate Peter Hodes SC, representing Hunt, he painted a picture of being a reluctant witness in the civil trial and confirmed that he was put “under pressure” to provide an affidavit in the matter, which is among the documents before the court.

According to Impey, his affidavit, dated October 2013 was made to a police officer who had approached him for “clarification” concerning the tracking device placed on the advocate’s car.

Impey said he had agreed to make a so-called “204” (or accomplice witness) statement to police in exchange for indemnity from prosecution, to protect both himself and his son. He said he did so on the advice of his attorney, Anthony Irons, and having regard to the evidence police already had against him.

Impey, who testified that he had been introduced to Hunt by De Beer, said she paid him a total of R15 000, of which R10 000 was for planting the bug in the advocates’ chambers and the tracking device on Chetty’s vehicle.

She had initially paid him R5 000 for checking her own offices for a possible bugging device, as she had reported that confidential information was being “leaked” from her offices.

Impey said he and his son had gone into the roof, but did not find any bugging devices.

However, he had discovered two cut microphone wires in the ceiling, which led him to believe that Hunt’s fears that someone had been “listening in” to her, were justified.

The case is proceeding.

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