Having an Affair? Steer clear of the marital car

People having an affair in Italy would be well advised in future not to use their car for illicit assignations.

An Italian judge yesterday ruled that wives or husbands who suspect marital infidelity are entitled under the law to bug their spouse’s car in the search for incriminating evidence.

The ruling arose in Brescia, northern Italy, where a private detective agency specialising in infidelity cases offered to plant hidden microphones and satellite tracking devices “in a couple of hours” in the cars of suspected spouses, at a cost of up to €1,500 (£1,000).

After some of the devices were found police charged 22 people – including private detectives and mechanics as well as the jealous spouses – with “invasion of privacy”. Yesterday, however, Lorenzo Benini, a judge in Brescia, ruled that to plant bugging devices in a car was “not a criminal offence”.

He said: “However disconcerting this may be, I find no penalty under the law for intercepting private conversations or communications in a vehicle. It is not illegal.”

The judge said that the law forbidding bugging applied only to homes, with a penalty of up to four years in prison.

Judge Benini acknowledged that the loophole was “a cause for alarm”, but he insisted that “the law is the law”. He said that he was obliged to acquit the 22 accused, but suggested that parliament might “take another look” at privacy laws in Italy and tighten them up.

In a country where corruption is rife, there are fears that the loophole could also be exploited by those engaged in other forms of espionage, industrial or political.

The wrath – and torment – of cheated husbands or wives is a constant theme of Italian cinema, from Divorce, Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni to Amore mio, aiutami (Help Me, My Love) starring Monica Vitti.

In a separate case yesterday, the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal in Italy, ordered an “obsessively jealous” husband not only to leave the marital home but to move to another town altogether to stop him trying to control his wife’s every move.

The court said that the husband, named only as Roberto under privacy laws, had in effect imprisoned his wife, Maria, by forbidding her to leave their home at Lecce, in Puglia, southern Italy, and installing a video surveillance camera outside the house to make sure that she obeyed.

It said that he had also obliged her to have his mother to stay in the house whenever he spent a night away.

The appeal judges rejected his plea that his actions arose from his “loving attentions” toward his wife. Corriere della Sera said that the two judgments showed that despite Italy’s reputation for a relaxed attitude to matters of the heart, marital jealousy was “stronger than ever”.

A survey in Donna Moderna, a women’s magazine, said that 92 per cent of Italian women would not forgive their husband for betraying them. The survey was taken after the resignation this week of Cosimo Mele, a Catholic MP from the Christian Democrat party, after it emerged that he had spent a night at a luxury Rome hotel suite with two prostitutes, one of whom was taken to hospital with a cocaine overdose.

Only 8 per cent of women questioned said that they would be understanding if their husband or partner were caught in a similar situation. Mr Mele, who denies taking drugs, blames his behaviour on the loneliness of life as a politician.

The Rome prosecutor has opened an inquiry into the case, saying that the prostitutes’ accounts of events differed in key respects from that of Mr Mele.

Home bugs

In Britain law enforcement agencies are required to seek warrants to place bugs or taps but private citizens are not. This opens the door to all forms of espionage whether personal. professional or political. So Britain’s cheating spouses must also be careful where they conduct their secret trysts. But would-be spies must weigh the risks – victims do have recourse to the civil courts under European legislation