In the dock: Brian Lord was prosecuted after putting a hand on the hostess’s knee
The three couples sat down to enjoy a Saturday night dinner party in a well-appointed, five-bedroom detached house in a village on the outskirts of Gloucester. Four of the assembled throng knew each other well.
There was the host and hostess, whom we cannot name for legal reasons but will call George and Susan. George is a successful middle-aged professional and Susan his attractive younger partner. Also at the table were two of their old friends.
That left two further guests — Brian Lord and his girlfriend Natasha Marshall. Brian had got to know George through their sons’ mutual love of sport, sharing a coffee while watching from time to time.
At 51, Brian was the oldest of those there on that November night last year — and by far the most intriguing.
For 21 years he had worked for GCHQ, the arm of the secret services responsible for monitoring and carrying out surveillance on communications inside and outside the United Kingdom.
In that time he rose to pretty much the top of the organization, picking up an OBE along the way. Since retiring as a spy chief in 2013, he had started a job at a private security firm, where he had met Natasha, 41.
Back to the dinner party. The evening started pleasantly. Fizz and wine flowed, the food was praised and there was polite conversation about politics, children and the like.
But fast forward to midnight and the sophisticated soiree had descended into a scene worthy of a Wild West saloon bar — the table spattered with blood, red wine and broken glasses.
By then both Brian and Natasha had been shown the door by their outraged host, George. Police had arrived and were interviewing his weeping partner, Susan.
She told officers that during the meal she had been groped by Brian, who had been sitting next to her.
It was alleged that the incident had been witnessed by Natasha who proceeded to punch Brian in the face. Following investigations by Gloucestershire police, Brian would be charged with sexual assault and Natasha with assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
But at separate hearings, first she and then Brian would have the most serious charges against them dropped. Instead they would plead guilty to common assault, leaving court with little more than slapped wrists.
Brian’s moment in court came earlier this month. And, through his barrister, he made it clear he felt he never should have been charged.
While he admitted putting his hand on his hostess Susan’s knee, he claimed it had been during a ‘sexualised party game’.
He was just being ‘friendly’, it was alleged, adding that he thought he had been ‘getting on rather well’ with his victim, who has the right to anonymity having made an allegation of sexual assault to police.
For 21 years he had worked for GCHQ, the arm of the secret services responsible for monitoring and carrying out surveillance on communications inside and outside the UK
‘He has never been in trouble before,’ his barrister told the court. ‘He is a family man. It is such a shame it has come to this.’
But others are less sympathetic. Speaking to friends, former acquaintances and sources close to the criminal investigation, the Mail has heard a very different account of Brian Lord — and what was said to have unfolded on the night the assaults took place.
‘This was a respectable dinner party with respectable people,’ said an individual with knowledge of the bust up. ‘What happened there was, by any view, totally outrageous.’
Given his career, it is perhaps unsurprising that until now Brian Lord has lived below the radar.
The son of a computer programmer and maths teacher, he was educated at the independent Bradford Grammar School before joining the Royal Corps of Signals.
The corps specialises in battlefield communications so his move in 1992 to become a civil servant working for GCHQ was in many senses a natural progression. The agency has its headquarters in Cheltenham, where operations are conducted from its distinctive doughnut- shaped building.
By then Brian had been married for some time to first wife Janet, with whom he had sons Jonathan and Stephen. An Arab speaker, Brian rose steadily through the ranks of GCHQ working here and abroad and was awarded an OBE in 2005.
By his retirement in 2013 he was deputy director for intelligence and cyber operations.
While at GCHQ he met his second wife, Rachael. At the time Brian was working in London and was her boss.
The couple married in 2000 and have a young son.
But it was not a happy union. ‘He was a vain, arrogant and manipulative man,’ a former friend of the couple said. Their relationship was tumultuous and she did not trust him around other women.
There was the host and hostess, whom we cannot name for legal reasons but will call George and Susan. Pictured: Lord leaves Gloucester Crown Court
They separated in 2013, not long after an incident that January which saw police called to the family home in Gloucester.
The then-Mrs Lord alleged they had been rowing and that during a struggle over a mobile phone she claims she badly hurt a finger. Lord in turn claimed he had had his shoulder dislocated during the fracas.
Though the extent of any injuries is disputed, police confirmed to the Mail that they had been called to a domestic incident at the home at that time.
It is understood police resolved the matter by sending a letter to both parties acknowledging they were equally to blame and asking them to sign it to accept this to be the case.
Later that year, Brian left GCHQ to work for a company called Protection Group International (PGI), a consultancy specialising in cyber security and risk consulting which has offices in London and Bristol.
On their website he is described as the managing director of their cyber section. Since joining the company, he has been quoted in the Press on a number of occasions giving his opinion on high-profile cyber attacks around the world.
While working at PGI he met his girlfriend, Natasha Marshall. A married mother, she is currently divorcing her husband of 22 years. Brian continued to have regular contact with his son by his second marriage, and, as described above, it was while watching him play sport that he became friendly with George.
As the men got to know one another, it seemed a natural courtesy for George to invite Brian and Natasha for a meal.
On the night, Brian and Natasha were the last to arrive, joining George and Susan and their two other guests. The men took their seats on one side of the glass dining room table, with the women facing them.
After the three-course meal, George suggested everyone swap seats for the remainder of the evening.
Brian remained where he was, now with his girlfriend Natasha on his left and his victim, Susan, on his right.
What did — or did not — happen next goes to the heart of Brian’s subsequent criminal prosecution. ‘He accepts he put his hand on this lady’s knee for two to three minutes,’ his barrister Rosaleen Collins told the hearing at Gloucester Crown Court earlier this month.
‘This was during the course of party games. They were sexualised party games such as, ‘Did you ever . . ?’, ‘Have you ever…?’, that sort of thing.
He intended no disrespect to her at all. He accepts it was something that was stupid, done in drink. At one stage he had his hand on his partner’s (Natasha’s) knee as well. It was an action that was friendly. They had all been drinking. He thought he was getting on rather well with the complainant.’
In other words, it was no big deal — a drunken misunderstanding if you like. But that is not the way others present on the night saw the incident.
While they declined to comment to the Mail, a friend of one attendee said: ‘This was presented in court like some sort of sex party. It wasn’t. All those there were regular, reputable people.’
The friend denied that either George, the host, or his partner Susan, the victim, had been drinking heavily and said the game that was being played was Trivial Pursuit.
A source with knowledge of the police investigation revealed that Susan, who was wearing trousers, claimed she repeatedly felt Brian’s hand touching the outside of her left thigh. It made her feel ‘uncomfortable’ but she did not know how to react for fear of causing a scene. She was worried how George and Natasha would respond.
She said Brian’s hand subsequently moved. At this point it is claimed Natasha said: ‘I saw that.’ Now in tears, Susan and Natasha went into the kitchen. Natasha then returned to the dining room.
‘She stood square on to Brian and punched him quite forcefully,’ said the source.
In the melee, a number of wine glasses were broken. Natasha was subsequently accused of using one of them to attack Brian.
She would claim they had been broken by accident and when her case was heard by magistrates in Cheltenham in March of this year, the charge of ABH was reduced to one of common assault to which she pleaded guilty.
Back to the night in question, and as Brian Lord nursed a cut to his face, Natasha was told to leave the house by George, who could not understand what had provoked the violent confrontation.
When informed by Susan about what she claimed had been happening, he immediately told Brian to leave as well. Police were called and Susan, who was in tears and visibly distressed, was interviewed until 2 am.
It is claimed she told officers she had done nothing to encourage Brian’s attentions nor had she given him permission to touch her. Her trousers were taken away for forensic tests.
Following a police investigation, Brian was charged with sexual
assault. He was due to stand trial at Gloucester Crown Court this month. But at the hearing the prosecution laid a second charge of common assault.
Brian pleaded guilty to the alternative offence. He was declared not guilty of sexual assault after the prosecution did not proceed with that charge. He was conditionally discharged and ordered to pay his victim £100 compensation, plus £200 costs.
Sentencing him, Judge Michael Cullum said: ‘Your behaviour was entirely out of character. It was, as you realised at the time, both unwise and inappropriate and it caused, and continues to cause, significant upset. ‘Your behaviour crossed the line to criminal behaviour, as a result of which you have lost your good name and your good character, which I know you will have held dear.’
Asked about the decision not to go ahead with the trial, a spokesperson for the CPS said: ‘Following a review of this case, including consultation with the victim, the CPS laid an alternative charge of common assault.’
While now persona non grata with the dinner party crowd, Brian Lord does have his supporters. In the wake of the publicity surrounding the court case, a biographical entry was created for him by contributors to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Initially it contained just a few factual details about his career and the recently concluded court hearing. But recently a number of edits have been made to the entry that could only be described as being sympathetic to Brian Lord and the predicament he found himself in.
One such edit read: ‘He is believed to be the first person in British legal history to be charged with common assault with the particularsbeing: “Assault by touching (the defendant) on her knee.”
Another line read ‘the CPS used 2 top tier self employed Barristers to pursue this case’. It also claimed that when he was cleared of the sexual assault there was ‘applause’ in the public gallery and that he had ‘reluctantly’ pleaded guilty to assault. Another sentence added: ‘When leaving in 2013, it came to light that over the 21 years at GCHQ Brian had sacrificed 550 days of holiday entitlement during his service to the country.’
These amendments were all added by a contributor using the name Stephendean1990. It may be a coincidence but Brian’s second son, who was born in 1990, is called Stephen Dean. Some of the additions by this contributor have since been removed although they can still be viewed thanks to a tool on the website that records every step of the editing process.
Brian Lord, through his solicitors said that any changes made by him to the Wikipedia page, were factual and not made to mislead the reader.
Additional reporting: Simon Trump.