27 October 2022

Leah Ware’s phone off network when shut in shipping container, murder trial told

27 October 2022

The phone of a woman who was allegedly murdered disconnected from the network when it was shut inside the shipping container in which she lived, a court has heard.

Mark Brown, 41, of Squirrel Close in St Leonards, East Sussex, is accused of murdering Alexandra Morgan, 34, and Leah Ware, 33, six months apart in 2021.

He denies both charges.

Tobie Clapcott, a former Sussex Police officer who is an expert in cell-site information, gave evidence at Hove Crown Court on Thursday about the position and movement of Brown and Miss Ware’s mobile phones.

He explained mobile phones connect to cell sites and send signals known as “handshakes” multiple times a day, recording where the phone is located and when “orderly shutdowns” occur – such as when a phone is manually switched off or it powers down when the battery runs out.

However there were times where Miss Ware’s mobile disappeared from the network entirely, without an orderly shutdown. These “disorderly shutdowns” could occur when the battery is removed from a phone or the phone is in a location with no signal.

Prosecution lawyer Duncan Atkinson KC argued these time periods were consistent with Miss Ware’s phone being inside the shipping container on Little Bridge Farm with the door closed.

The jury has previously heard that Miss Ware described to friends and family in the months before her disappearance that Brown had become more controlling of her actions and behaviour – and sometimes he locked her inside the shipping container.

Testing by both Kent and Sussex Police found mobile phones were able to connect to the network when the shipping container door was open, but not when the door was closed.

Miss Ware’s phone stopped connecting to the cell site network on May 8 2021, the day after the prosecution allege she was killed.

Her phone left the network in a “disorderly shutdown” on the evening of May 7, returning to the network at 8.57am the next morning, and coming in and out of the network throughout the day until it was switched off manually in an “orderly shutdown” at 2.38pm.

Mr Clapcott said: “That was the last time that phone was ever seen on the network.”

When cross examining the witness, defence lawyer Ian Henderson KC explained that cell site data is limited.

Mr Clapcott added: “Coverage of a mast in a rural area could be at least three to five kilometres, but depending on the conditions and if there are no obstructions then a signal will travel – it’s a burst of energy.

“The phones could have been at Little Bridge Farm but could have been anywhere in the vicinity of the cell mast.

“During a disorderly shutdown it could be that signal is cut off or lost – in a rural area you can just have a lack of signal.”

The trial continues.

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