Sophie Lionnet death: Boyzone founder ‘never heard’ of French nanny

A former member of Boyzone embroiled in the murder case of his ex-girlfriend’s French nanny told jurors he “never, ever” had any contact with the victim.

Mark Walton was allegedly a focal point of his former partner’s campaign of torture against Sophie Lionnet.

Sabrina Kouider, 35, and Ouissem Medouni, 40, beat the 21-year-old au pair into a confession that she was in league with Mr Walton to spy on the family, the Old Bailey heard.

They deny killing her hours later.

Ms Lionnet’s body was thrown on to a bonfire in their garden in Southfields, south-west London, the court heard.

Giving evidence, Mr Walton, who is based in Los Angeles, told jurors his ex-partner, Ms Kouider, would “flip” during their two-year turbulent relationship.

He would support the fashion designer with thousands of pounds every month, even paying her rent long after she left him, he told the court.

On their relationship, he said: “It was turbulent, probably the most turbulent relationship I had ever been in.

“She would go from a softly spoken French accent, then she would flip, get very angry, very loud and just not care where we were.

“She would just go crazy over something trivial.”

The first he heard about Miss Lionnet was on 21 September last year when he was contacted by murder detectives, he said.

Referring to accusations levelled at him by Ms Kouider, prosecutor Richard Horwell QC said: “Have you ever been party to a plot to drug the people in the Wimbledon flat and, whilst unconscious, sexually abuse the occupants?”

Mr Walton said: “Absolutely not.”

He said the last time he was in the UK was when he went to a meeting in October 2015 and he told jurors he had “never, ever” heard of Ms Lionnet or ever been in contact with her.

Mr Walton told jurors he “created” Boyzone in 1993 and was in the band for about a year before going on to be involved in Fifth Avenue.


Who is Mark Walton?

1993: Auditions take place for a new Irish boyband. Mark Walton, along with Keith Duffy, Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch and Richie Rock form Boyzone and are later managed by Louis Walsh

1994: Mark Walton and Richie Rock leave the band

2000s: After Boyzone, Mr Walton sets up a band called Fifth Avenue, and also gets involved with the management of Irish girlband B*Witched

2015: Mr Walton appears as a judge on Vietnam’s Pop Idol

2017: Mr Walton named during the murder case of his ex-girlfriend’s French nanny


By the time he met Ms Kouider in 2011 he was doing well financially in the music business, he said.

Mr Walton said he paid for Ms Kouider’s nannies but she would fire them over accusations of stealing and of being interested in him, the court heard.

“I actually challenged Sabrina on this. I did not believe her,” he told the court.

Ms Kouider and Mr Medouni have admitted perverting the course of justice but deny murder.

The trial continues.

Wanted: Robot wrangler, no experience required

How about this for a future job advert? “Wranglers wanted for growing fleets of robots. Your responsibilities will include evaluating robot performance, providing real-time analysis and support for problems.

“You must be analytical, detail-oriented, friendly – and ready to walk. No advanced degree required.”

Even if this particular advert has not yet appeared, some are already carrying out the role.

Brandon Rees, 32, used to make food deliveries. Now he watches robots do them.

Since September, Mr Rees has been working as a robot operator for Robby Technologies, a Silicon Valley start-up whose robots have been deployed by delivery firms in eight cities in California.

On a typical day, Mr Rees picks up a robot, then accompanies it through the streets, providing assessment of the robot’s performance, back-up in the event of any serious problems, and explanations to curious passers-by.

On other days, he sits at a desk with screens, monitoring the machines from afar.

Mr Rees’s role might seem counter-intuitive. After all, robots are widely expected to displace workers – as many as 800 million – or 30% of the global workforce – by 2030, according to one recent McKinsey Global Institute estimate.

But his job wrangling robots offers a glimpse of the new kinds of roles that are likely to emerge as automation transforms a wide swathe of industries, from transportation to health care.

“The way we view it … the whole industry is shifting toward the paradigm that we basically have intelligent machines that do the actual physical labour,” says Matthew Delaney, chief executive of the robotics company Marble, which started deliveries in San Francisco last year.

“Either in conjunction with a person or where the person is remote support, in more of a manager role.”

Paradigm shift

The role performed by Mr Rees is so new it has not even acquired a clearly recognised title.

Job posts use terms like technicians, monitors, handlers and operations specialists. Media outlets have described the role as anything from robot chauffeurs to robot babysitters.

Regardless of the name, analysts say it is clear such positions are growing.

“We use that term ‘autonomous’ a lot when we think about robots, but in fact very few robots are purely autonomous,” says Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s newly launched task force on the work of the future.

“There are always humans someplace, somehow, watching, programming and interacting with them, so I think that’s a model that we are going to get more comfortable with and need to get more comfortable with.”

In addition to Robby, robotics companies such as Marble and UK-headquartered Starship Technologies have advertised the positions, seeking staff to transport robots from warehouses to delivery zones and oversee their activities.

  • Will a robot take your job?
  • Starship robot aims to reduce delivery costs
  • Can we teach robots ethics?

    Nor are such plans limited to the delivery sector. Self-driving car companies are also exploring remote command centres.

    Some of the demand reflects near-term pressures – such as robots stumped by real-world navigation or local laws that require human chaperones to test new delivery devices.

    But executives say they think a monitoring version of the job will remain, even as robots become more independent.

    “We will require less and less human assistance but remotely the operators are always behind the scenes,” says Rui Li, Robby’s co-founder and chief executive.

    Customer confidence

    Aethon, a Pennsylvania company best known for creating a robot to transport materials inside hospitals, provides an example of what the job might look like at a bigger scale.

    The roughly 90-person firm, which has deployed more than 600 robots globally since its start in 2004, has a round-the-clock support centre in Pittsburgh with a staff of 25, many of them hired in the last few years.

    The position which involves responding to alerts sent by robots, has existed since the start, but the number of jobs has multiplied in recent years, as the firm’s growth accelerated.

    “Regardless of how well a robot navigates a particular location, there may be problems that occur,” says chief executive Aldo Zini, citing examples like blocked hallways or broken elevators. “We needed to have a way to monitor that.”

    The company – which expects the number of robots it installs this year to increase by 40% – anticipates opening similar facilities in other parts of the world to handle global growth.

    “It allows customers to have the confidence that not only are robots going to do their job and do it well, but if there’s a problem, we will be on top of it immediately,” Mr Zini says.

    In a recent report, McKinsey Global Institute predicts that new technology will generate between 20-46 million new positions by 2030, while new occupations represent 8-9% of the global workforce.

    Robot minding positions – which do not require advanced degrees – have attracted attention amid concerns that most of the new jobs created by technology will be in fields that require significant training, such as engineering.

    Whether new occupations will increase in numbers, or with wages, that make up for the positions being displaced is another matter – robot handlers earn about $15-20 (£10-14) an hour at Robby.


    Future of Work

    BBC News is looking at how technology is changing the way we work, and how it is creating new job opportunities.

    • Would you eat chicken grown in a lab?
    • How to cope when the bots take your job
    • Staying one step ahead of the cyber-spies
    • How to become a professional shopper
    • More Future of Work stories

      McKinsey predicts that the bulk of jobs in future decades will be in fields such as elderly care and construction, where demand is driven by forces such as demographics, rather than automation.

      “There’s a real robot industry that’s growing, but if you look at the overall economy, it’s a small percentage,” says Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the consulting firm.

      McKinsey says it does not expect automation to drive a large spike in unemployment over the long run, but researchers caution that the forecast depends on how quickly automation transforms the workforce, and how easily displaced workers find new jobs.

      Governments will play a role determining that future, through investments in retraining and public policies.

      We have already seen instances of public pressure leading officials to press the brakes. San Francisco, for example, recently passed rules that limit where delivery robots can operate. Human pilots are still required on commercial flights, despite autopilot capabilities.

      For now, robots remain relatively rare, as Mr Rees’s experience on the streets reveals. “People get really excited,” he says. “They want to run up and take pictures.”

      Illustration by Karen Charmaine Chanakira

Wanted: Robot wrangler, no experience required

How about this for a future job advert? “Wranglers wanted for growing fleets of robots. Your responsibilities will include evaluating robot performance, providing real-time analysis and support for problems.

“You must be analytical, detail-oriented, friendly – and ready to walk. No advanced degree required.”

Even if this particular advert has not yet appeared, some are already carrying out the role.

Brandon Rees, 32, used to make food deliveries. Now he watches robots do them.

Since September, Mr Rees has been working as a robot operator for Robby Technologies, a Silicon Valley start-up whose robots have been deployed by delivery firms in eight cities in California.

On a typical day, Mr Rees picks up a robot, then accompanies it through the streets, providing assessment of the robot’s performance, back-up in the event of any serious problems, and explanations to curious passers-by.

On other days, he sits at a desk with screens, monitoring the machines from afar.

Mr Rees’s role might seem counter-intuitive. After all, robots are widely expected to displace workers – as many as 800 million – or 30% of the global workforce – by 2030, according to one recent McKinsey Global Institute estimate.

But his job wrangling robots offers a glimpse of the new kinds of roles that are likely to emerge as automation transforms a wide swathe of industries, from transportation to health care.

“The way we view it … the whole industry is shifting toward the paradigm that we basically have intelligent machines that do the actual physical labour,” says Matthew Delaney, chief executive of the robotics company Marble, which started deliveries in San Francisco last year.

“Either in conjunction with a person or where the person is remote support, in more of a manager role.”

Paradigm shift

The role performed by Mr Rees is so new it has not even acquired a clearly recognised title.

Job posts use terms like technicians, monitors, handlers and operations specialists. Media outlets have described the role as anything from robot chauffeurs to robot babysitters.

Regardless of the name, analysts say it is clear such positions are growing.

“We use that term ‘autonomous’ a lot when we think about robots, but in fact very few robots are purely autonomous,” says Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s newly launched task force on the work of the future.

“There are always humans someplace, somehow, watching, programming and interacting with them, so I think that’s a model that we are going to get more comfortable with and need to get more comfortable with.”

In addition to Robby, robotics companies such as Marble and UK-headquartered Starship Technologies have advertised the positions, seeking staff to transport robots from warehouses to delivery zones and oversee their activities.

  • Will a robot take your job?
  • Starship robot aims to reduce delivery costs
  • Can we teach robots ethics?

    Nor are such plans limited to the delivery sector. Self-driving car companies are also exploring remote command centres.

    Some of the demand reflects near-term pressures – such as robots stumped by real-world navigation or local laws that require human chaperones to test new delivery devices.

    But executives say they think a monitoring version of the job will remain, even as robots become more independent.

    “We will require less and less human assistance but remotely the operators are always behind the scenes,” says Rui Li, Robby’s co-founder and chief executive.

    Customer confidence

    Aethon, a Pennsylvania company best known for creating a robot to transport materials inside hospitals, provides an example of what the job might look like at a bigger scale.

    The roughly 90-person firm, which has deployed more than 600 robots globally since its start in 2004, has a round-the-clock support centre in Pittsburgh with a staff of 25, many of them hired in the last few years.

    The position which involves responding to alerts sent by robots, has existed since the start, but the number of jobs has multiplied in recent years, as the firm’s growth accelerated.

    “Regardless of how well a robot navigates a particular location, there may be problems that occur,” says chief executive Aldo Zini, citing examples like blocked hallways or broken elevators. “We needed to have a way to monitor that.”

    The company – which expects the number of robots it installs this year to increase by 40% – anticipates opening similar facilities in other parts of the world to handle global growth.

    “It allows customers to have the confidence that not only are robots going to do their job and do it well, but if there’s a problem, we will be on top of it immediately,” Mr Zini says.

    In a recent report, McKinsey Global Institute predicts that new technology will generate between 20-46 million new positions by 2030, while new occupations represent 8-9% of the global workforce.

    Robot minding positions – which do not require advanced degrees – have attracted attention amid concerns that most of the new jobs created by technology will be in fields that require significant training, such as engineering.

    Whether new occupations will increase in numbers, or with wages, that make up for the positions being displaced is another matter – robot handlers earn about $15-20 (£10-14) an hour at Robby.


    Future of Work

    BBC News is looking at how technology is changing the way we work, and how it is creating new job opportunities.

    • Would you eat chicken grown in a lab?
    • How to cope when the bots take your job
    • Staying one step ahead of the cyber-spies
    • How to become a professional shopper
    • More Future of Work stories

      McKinsey predicts that the bulk of jobs in future decades will be in fields such as elderly care and construction, where demand is driven by forces such as demographics, rather than automation.

      “There’s a real robot industry that’s growing, but if you look at the overall economy, it’s a small percentage,” says Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the consulting firm.

      McKinsey says it does not expect automation to drive a large spike in unemployment over the long run, but researchers caution that the forecast depends on how quickly automation transforms the workforce, and how easily displaced workers find new jobs.

      Governments will play a role determining that future, through investments in retraining and public policies.

      We have already seen instances of public pressure leading officials to press the brakes. San Francisco, for example, recently passed rules that limit where delivery robots can operate. Human pilots are still required on commercial flights, despite autopilot capabilities.

      For now, robots remain relatively rare, as Mr Rees’s experience on the streets reveals. “People get really excited,” he says. “They want to run up and take pictures.”

      Illustration by Karen Charmaine Chanakira