Footballer Emiliano Sala’s sister has described a CCTV company director and her employee as “wicked and evil” after they illegally accessed images of his post-mortem examination.
Romina Sala said her family were left devastated after images of her brother’s body began to leak on to Instagram just days after being recovered from the English Channel.
On Friday, a victim impact statement from Argentina-based Ms Sala was read to Swindon Crown Court, where Sherry Bray, 49, and her employee Christopher Ashford, 62, were to be sentenced for accessing the footage.
Ms Sala said: “I have seen photos of Emiliano’s body leaked on Instagram, and I cannot believe there are people so wicked and evil who could do that.
“I phoned Emiliano’s agent and told him what was circulating on the internet. I called our brother, Dario, and he did not want to see the photos.
“With my brother I tried to keep our mother off the internet and social networks. Our mother could not see those horrible photos.
“It was very stressful and heartbreaking to see those photos because I was here with my family waiting for the body of my dead brother and could not believe what or how those pictures were circulating.
“I started asking not to show those photos and I was very sad because people were making improper comments and making jokes about it.
“I’ll never erase the images from my head. My brother and mother can never forget about this.
“It’s hard for me to live with this image.”
Mr Sala, 28, had just signed for Cardiff City 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.
Bray, the director of Camera Security Services Limited in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and her employee Ashford accessed footage of the procedure being conducted on Mr Sala on February 7.
Bray had sent a message to night worker Ashford before his shift, which said: “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.
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 another body in the mortuary, a man called Andrew Latchem who had previously died in non-suspicious circumstances.
Prosecutor Robert Welling 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”.
He added: “A culture had developed whereby it appears in some ways it was actively encouraged.”
Mr Welling said Ashford admitted to police about watching autopsies in the past, saying he had a “morbid obsession” with them.
Forensic pathologist Dr Basil Purdue said in a statement he was not aware the security cameras in the mortuary were able to film post-mortem examinations, and said that had he known they were recording procedures, he would “not allow that to take place”, adding it was a “flagrant breach of medical confidentiality”.
Mr Latcham’s son, Richard Latcham, directed his words to Bray in his statement, saying: “Is nothing sacred? Why would you do such a thing? Such a cruel and unnecessary act.”
He said the incident had cost him £5,400 in loss of earnings and counselling sessions.
Bray, of Corsham, and Ashford, of Calne, each admitted three counts of computer misuse at Swindon Crown Court in August.
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 her company had a turnover of £1.2 million last year and employs around 20 people, with her becoming director when her father, who started the business, died.
Mr Cotter said: “She fully accepts the distress and upset she’s caused. She does not walk away from that for one second.
“It was never her intention for these photos to be put in the public sphere. She did not intend to cause harm in this case.
“She should have known better. But she looked in Pandora’s box.”
Thomas Horder, defending Ashford, said the grandfather of four has since had his employment terminated by the company, and called his actions the “biggest mistake he has ever made”.
Mr Horder added: “Not only is he deeply sorry and remorseful, but someone who is devastated and ashamed of his actions.
“He did not intend at any point to cause harm to anyone.”
Judge Peter Crabtree called the proceedings an “extremely unusual case”, saying that one of its kind had “not appeared in front of the court before”.
He adjourned sentencing until Monday, saying: “This is an extremely unusual case.
“I’m well aware both defendants will not appreciate it. But it’s important to get it right.”
Both were bailed until Monday.
Judge Crabtree previously warned the pair the starting point for sentencing was custody.
The maximum penalty for securing unauthorised access to a computer is two years’ imprisonment, according to the Crown Prosecution Service’s website.
Perverting the course of justice carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, a fine, or both, it added.