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Craig Anderson reports
"Podesta left by a rear exit refusing to comment"
 real 56k

Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Secret Madonna video man fined
Madonna, Guy and baby
The christening took place behind closed doors
A man who admitted secretly filming the christening of Madonna's son Rocco in the Scottish Highlands has been fined 1,000.

Robert Podesta, 51, climbed into the organ pipes amid tight security in Dornoch Cathedral to video the ceremony in December.

He managed to film the service for 24 minutes but was caught as he left the building.

At Dornoch Sheriff Court on Thursday, Sheriff Ian Cameron fined Podesta 1,000 and said what he had done amounted to a "clandestine intrusion on a private religious ceremony".


What you did amounted to a clandestine intrusion on a private religious ceremony

Sheriff Ian Cameron
The sheriff also criticised the private security firm Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie had hired to protect the ceremony for allowing Podesta to record the service.

The court heard that what security advisor Podesta had done could have resulted in substantial concern if he had been discovered during the service.

Podesta's action had been motivated by the substantial amount of money he could have made from the film.

Cameras and reporters were kept out of the star-studded event, which happened the day before Madonna, 42, and film director Guy Ritchie were married at Skibo Castle.

Podesta
Podesta tried to evade the waiting media
Guests included Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, pop star Sting and fashion designer Stella McCartney.

Podesta hid in the organ pipes the day before the christening with a supply of food and drinks.

He managed to "furtively video" the proceedings, but the alarm was raised when he made a noise as he tried to leave an hour after the guests had gone.

Podesta, of Orcop, in Garway, Herefordshire, was not in court for a prevous hearing.

On that occasion, his solicitor said he admitted conducting himself in a disorderly manner likely to cause "concern" by filming the private ceremony on 21 December.

Sheriff Cameron had ordered the destruction of the video and called for Podesta to appear in person to give details of his financial circumstances before sentencing.

'Not without means'

No details of Podesta's financial circumstances were disclosed in court on Thursday.

However, the sheriff noted that Podesta was "not entirely without means".

Before sentencing Podesta, Sheriff Cameron said: "I am bound to say that the fact that you were able to conceal yourself in Dornoch Cathedral effectively until after the ceremony had taken place and it was only subsequently, as you were on the point of leaving, that you were discovered doesn't say very much for the efficacy of the private security firm employed to attend to security at the cathedral."

Podesta, who appeared in the dock wearing a dark suit and blue tie, was given a month in which to pay the fine.

The sheriff told him: "What you did amounted to a clandestine intrusion on a private religious ceremony which, if it had been discovered during the ceremony, would unquestionably have caused a great deal of concern."

Podesta was "obviously motivated by the prospect of the substantial gain by disposing of the film".

"I don't think I have been told how much you stood to gain, but no doubt, on an international scale, it would have been very large indeed."

News camera
The media were kept at bay on the night
Solicitor Craig Wood, defending, had told the court that Podesta did not really expect to succeed in filming the ceremony, describing it as "a bit like Mission Impossible".

He said: "Having some knowledge of the security business, while he came up here with the intention of secreting himself in the cathedral he also expected to be found.

"Had a search been properly carried out by those employed there he would have been found."

Alasdair MacDonald, for the Crown, told an earlier hearing that Madonna and Ritchie had obtained special permission from the Church of Scotland for baby Rocco's christening to be held in private because they were concerned about security.

Security personnel came across Podesta carrying a rucksack, which was found to contain a camcorder.

Organ pipe

When questioned, Podesta confessed to having filmed the baptism from behind the cathedral's organ.

Mr Macdonald told the court that there was no film in the camcorder and Podesta said he had dropped it down an organ pipe.

The organ was searched and a film retrieved, which proved to be blank, but meanwhile Podesta was spotted trying to hide a video cassette under a pew cushion.

This proved to be a 24-minute recording of the christening ceremony.

The court also heard how Podesta had met reporter James Bufton about a week before the christening, when the details of the plan had been devised.

Mr Wood told Thursday's hearing: "He (Podesta) has explained to me that he allowed himself to get involved in this venture for a bit of fun, a bit of excitement, but he now realises that he has been a fool and he regrets it."

At the earlier hearing the Crown had accepted not guilty pleas by Bufton, 33, of Ty Gwynt, Llanarth, Usk, Monmouthshire, who had faced three charges in connection with the christening.

Podesta left court without commenting to waiting reporters and pulled his jacket over his head as he tried to avoid photographers.

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See also:

05 Mar 01 | Scotland
Madonna video man pleads guilty
26 Feb 01 | Scotland
Madonna: Scotland was magical
22 Jan 01 | Scotland
Madonna ignites tourism campaign
23 Dec 00 | Scotland
Madonna weds her Guy
11 Dec 00 | Scotland
Newly webbed site for Madonna fans
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