Theft has consequences

Use of an irregular passport put a Jamaican national in prison for nine months. But before sentence was passed, the circumstances of the offending were aired in Summary Court last week.

Alton Garth Lawrence, 39, told the court that he had been in Cayman previously, but his work permit had not been renewed.

Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale asked if he knew why.

‘I went in a store and stole a hat,’ Lawrence admitted. Questioned further, he acknowledged that the hat was priced at $10 or $12.

‘And for that you lost your living,’ the magistrate summarised. ‘You lost the privilege of working here, so you committed another offence to come back?’

The defendant said yes.

In Jamaica the theft of a hat would ordinarily not cause a man to go to prison or lose his job, the magistrate noted. But in Cayman the consequences are far greater than the offence.

She pointed out that the policy of the Immigration Board is to refuse work permits to people with a conviction. So the consequence to Lawrence was to lose his job and the ability to support his family.

That was a heavy price to pay for a hat, she indicated. But every time a person does something wrong, he or she takes the risk of being discovered. ‘Then you have to pay the consequences.’

Sentencing was adjourned until the next day so that the magistrate could look at precedents in other passport cases.

Lawrence was convicted of theft in 2001.

He indicated that he had gone back to Jamaica hoping that his employer would take out another permit.

When that did not happen, he purchased a passport from somebody for Ja$30,000. It was in the name of Collie Roy Martin. Lawrence used it to return to Cayman in June 2004.

He was given permission to remain for one month, but decided not to leave.

In August this year, Immigration officers received a report of a Jamaican male overstaying. Lawrence was interviewed under caution and admitted his true name.

He also admitted that he failed to answer truthfully when questioned by an Immigration officer, making a false statement on an Immigration form and working without a permit.

Offence prevalent

In passing sentence, the magistrate told Lawrence that what he had done affected other people as well as himself.

She described passport offences as very prevalent, causing all Jamaicans to suffer. When they travel they are regarded with suspicion and their documents are carefully scrutinised. Almost all countries now require visas and it has been suggested that even in Cayman Jamaicans have visas, she commented.

In previous cases the courts have stated that a passport is an important document that confers rights on the holder. It is therefore necessary that the integrity of passports be maintained.

Knowingly using a false passport is serious and sentences should deter others from committing this type of offence.

In addition to nine months for the irregular passport, Lawrence received three-month sentences for his other offences. These were made to run concurrently.