Sentence adjourned for attempted arson at CPS

Sentencing has been adjourned for a teenager found guilty of attempting arson at the Central Police Station lock-up.

Osbourne Douglas, 18, was found guilty by Mr. Justice Alex Henderson after trial in Grand Court. A co-accused, now 16, was found not guilty.

In delivering his verdict, the judge set out five factors for judging the credibility of a witness.

The charge against the two teens arose from an incident last April, when the mattress in the cell of the young person was set alight.

The judge said he accepted the evidence of another inmate, who was in the cell next to the young person. This inmate told the court he had heard Douglas say he was going to burn down the place and get out.

This witness, who at the time was in custody for possession of ganja, said Douglas was in a cell on the other side of the lock-up, but he walked across to the young person’s cell carrying a razor and a lighter. Douglas cut the mattress and tried to light it, but it did not catch. The young person asked what he was doing and Douglas told him to shut his mouth.

Douglas then went back to his own cell, the witness said, and came back with lighted tissue which he pushed into the cell. The young person’s bed then caught fire.

On behalf of Douglas, Defence Attorney Nicholas Dixey cross-examined the witness and asked why he would voluntarily cooperate with police, given his poor record. The witness said Douglas was trying to kill everybody else to get out himself. ‘I assist the police if my life is in danger,’ the witness explained.

The judge pointed to five primary factors that one looks at when assessing the credibility of a witness.

One is whether the evidence is ‘internally consistent’ – that the witness does not contradict himself and is not shaken in cross-examination.

The judge then considered whether the evidence was ‘externally consistent’ with other evidence, including the testimony of Douglas’ co-accused and a video tape of the lock-up area on the night of the incident.

Viewing of the tape was requested by Defence Attorney Steve McField, who acted for the young person. The judge said the tape was of poor quality and did not go very far in corroborating the rest of the evidence.

The tape did, however, show an inmate of an approximate age and build walking back and forth between the cells. The judge could not identify the inmate as Douglas, but he could say it was not the young person.

‘Demeanour’ refers to the way a person looks, acts and sounds while giving evidence. The judge said he closely observed the inmate witness and the young person defendant while they gave evidence. He saw nothing to suggest they were lying.

‘Bias’ refers to an attitude of prejudice for partiality for or against.

The judge noted that Mr. Dixey had questioned the inmate witness about an alleged fight between him and Douglas. The judge pointed out that questions by an attorney are not evidence unless the witness agrees. In this instance, the witness denied any fight and there was nothing to support the allegation of a fight.

The inmate’s explanation of why he would cooperate with police was convincing, the judge said. He saw no reason for the witness to blame Douglas, rather than another lock-up occupant, unless Douglas was the perpetrator.

The fifth factor the judge looked at was ‘inherent probability’. The judge said the witness told a simple narrative that contained nothing inherently improbable.

Finally, he noted that he was not permitted to find the witness was telling the truth without reminding himself it is dangerous to convict without some corroboration. But he is permitted to convict if he is convinced.

Mr. Justice Henderson concluded that he was convinced of Douglas’ guilt.

He was satisfied that the young person was telling the truth in court. This defendant had taken the blame for the mattress fire in his first statement to police. The judge disregarded that statement as being given under fear.

In his closing argument, Mr. McField had questioned why a boy of 15 had been kept in the CPS lock-up in the first place.

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