Policeman’s appeal dismissed

A sentence of 18 months for former Police Constable Keith Guthrie was not manifestly excessive, the Court of Appeal said last week.

Guthrie, 38, received the term of imprisonment in April after pleading guilty to one count of official corruption. He had admitted receiving $500 from a man whom he had stopped for traffic violations.

At the time of his offence, Guthrie had been a police officer in Cayman for four years.

The Crown’s case was that Guthrie told the driver he would receive a summons to court. Later the same day Guthrie phoned the driver and told him he faced fines of $3,000 and loss of licence for two years. The driver agreed to pay Guthrie $1,500.

Five days after that sum was handed over, Guthrie phoned the driver again and said the ’15’ was for his partner; Guthrie thought there would be something for him. As a result, the driver reported the matter to police and agreed to wear a recording device and take part in a surveillance operation.

After meeting the man, receiving five photocopied $100 notes from him and then driving away, Guthrie was stopped by police.

A charge against him relating to the $1,500 was left on file.

In the Court of Appeal as in the Grand Court, Defence Attorney Ailsa Williamson said Guthrie did not initiate what happened. Her instructions were that the driver asked Guthrie, ‘If I were to offer you money, would this go away?’

Ms Williamson conceded that a custodial sentence was merited, but said 18 months was manifestly excessive for one isolated incident after a guilty plea.

She cited several cases from the UK, but only one local precedent.

The Cayman matter, from 2002, involved an officer convicted after trial for obtaining money by deception and conspiracy to evade the Immigration Law. He received a sentence of six months.

Ms Williamson compared features of the two matters. The first officer was a detective superintendent, Guthrie an ordinary constable.

The amount of money obtained in the earlier case was CI$7,816. Guthrie’s one charge involved $500, which was immediately recovered. The senior officer’s corrupt activity was over a longer period, Ms Williamson pointed out.

In reply, Acting Attorney General Cheryll Richards said the judge who sentenced Guthrie had commented on the particular factor of deterrence and public confidence being undermined by offences like this. The judge said this factor had to be significant in a small jurisdiction like Cayman.

Ms Richard listed the particular circumstances of the senior officer. He was 60 years old with a previously distinguished career. He had recently undergone by-pass surgery and his long-term prognosis was less than good.

Justice Martin Taylor said Guthrie’s case was not one of yielding to temptation initiated by another person.

Justice Elliott Mottley pointed out that the $500 was not the beginning of what had happened; it was the second part.

Court president Justice Edward Zacca said that even if the driver did initiate the idea of a bribe, the subsequent request for more money came from Guthrie.

After the judges conferred amongst themselves, Justice Zacca said they were unable to say 18 months was manifestly excessive and the appeal was dismissed.