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Security learnings from the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard defamation case


Some courts and tribunals cases or hearings will attract heightened media interest because, for example, they involve a high-profile party or subject. Often this will lead to journalist or members of the public seeking to attend to observe the case or hearing itself.

The recent court case involving actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard was discussed the world over with the public allowed to attend many parts of the hearing in America. Both actors were already global superstars, but this event merely shone the spotlight on the pair even further, giving rise to questions around upping their personal security. Reports from the American media suggested that Amber Heard had hired an elite security detail for protection amid fears of escalating threats and “lone-wolf” attacks from crazed Johnny Depp fans during the trial. The security firm, staffed by former military and government officials, was tasked with monitoring lone-wolf supporters trying to gain access to the County Circuit Courthouse grounds, vehicles, or entrance to the facility.

So what impact does a high profile event such as court proceedings have on an individual’s security? And what are the ways in which a detail can be adjusted or enhanced to ensure the ultimate level of protection?

Upping your media monitoring game – what’s being said about you?

During any highly publicised events involving you, it is important to consider what information is being released online about you, your home and your whereabouts. The reasons behind this is that calculated criminals, crazed fans or even spur of the moment opportunists can quickly ascertain a lot about your movements simply through the click of a button. This threat is further heightened when the media is already reporting about the location of a court hearing, at which you are present – in real time!

Through social media, public forums or event comment sections of digital newspapers, attackers might voice their intentions, spread false information concern or leave signals for planned threats which – if spotted early – can lead to the successful thwarting of any potential attack.

A fundamental challenge with social media monitoring, is knowing where to look and how to identify credible threats amidst overwhelming noise, in a timely fashion.

Social media monitoring can provide critical real time information on threats increasing situational awareness, but organisations and their security teams are well-advised to not lose sight of the forest for the trees.

The usefulness of social media monitoring is best leveraged in a holistic risk management approach, one that incorporates diverse security strategies, including a range of cyber security measures.

Assessing the surveillance threat level – are you being watched?

The issue of surveillance is a significant one to consider in the event of court proceedings for a number of reasons:

  • It is possible that surveillance material might be used to enhance the case of the opposing individual or organisation
  • Expert criminal gangs may be employing surveillance tactics such as the use tracking devices and cameras, in order to ascertain your home address, your personal movements and when your residence is likely to be empty during the hearing

If you or your security team feel that any type of surveillance threat is possible you can look to adopt a range of tactics not only to confirm whether surveillance is taking place but also how to thwart it. These methods might include, for example, enhancing your existing close protection detail with a blend of both protective and counter surveillance measures.

This involves complementing your usual bodyguarding team with expert operatives who will monitor embarkation and disembarkation from a distance to ensure that no one else is watching your movements. It also involves doing regular vehicle checks, house sweeps and CCTV analysis to check for unwanted devices or suspicious activity.

Leveraging different bodyguard formations

Although this article has focused on a more holistic and behind the scenes approach to adjusting client protection levels during the likes of a court case. There are also tactics that operatives will employ on the ground, in real-time whilst shadowing you. The tactics can vary from the number of bodyguards within the team to the formation they use when accompanying you from A to B.

There are four basic formations that close protection teams will employ in the protection of their client. The selection that they make depends on the environment, threat level, circumstances and the number of bodyguards within the team.

These four basic formations include:

  • Wedge
  • Box
  • Diamond
  • One-on-one formations (a structured perimeter defense formed around the client)

These formations remain near the client, are highly mobile and move with the client at all times, shielding the client from encountering any altercations.  While conducting these protective formations either as a team bodyguard effort or on a one-on-one effort, professionals will always be alert and position themselves between the client to shield against possible threats. In addition, they will fully scan the room and if they sense any danger will take immediate action. Each of the above formations is utilised to suit the individual needs of a given situation, in this case the perimeter of a court rooms.  Ultimately, the most important consideration is maintaining the integrity of protection always provided for the client by mitigating potential threats.

There are a number of key security takeaways from the recent Depp v Heard court case but perhaps the most important is that high profile individuals are constantly at risk of a myriad of potential threats. In response, your security should always be fluid, agile and ready to respond quickly to the unexpected.

If you are currently involved in court proceedings or are concerned about any of the themes mentioned in this article, get in touch via our website to discuss your options.

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