Three Cayman Islands Cabinet members blasted Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan Thursday for ‘misleading’ them about the capabilities of the helicopter government purchased last year for exclusive use of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said he was uncertain whether the Eurocopter 1999 model, which is still in the United States, could be outfitted as required or whether it would have to be sold and another helicopter model purchased.
‘It was clear…that any helicopter that was to be acquired would, of fundamental necessity, be able to service all three islands and operate…day or night,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘I regret to have to say…that we have now learned that the aircraft which was acquired cannot fulfil these requirements as it now stands. We are extremely disappointed to have learnt this.’
Government purchased the helicopter for $1.8 million in 2007 from a police service in the UK and has spent another $1 million outfitting the aircraft to prepare it for arrival in Cayman. It is likely that more money would have to be spent to make further improvements to the aircraft before it could be brought to the islands; how much money isn’t known.
The major difficulties, according to Mr. Tibbetts, are that the helicopter does not have certain night-flying instruments, making it impossible to use safely over Little Cayman and Cayman Brac where there are few lights at night. Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean also noted floatation devices purchased to protect the aircraft in case it was forced down over water could not be attached to this particular Eurocopter model.
‘Questions were being asked by the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, and he (Mr. Kernohan) was continually either avoiding answering or not responding at all,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
Mr. McLean offered the strongest chastisement of Mr. Kernohan, and said he would be opposed to any attempt to reinstate the commissioner at RCIPS even if he was cleared in an investigation at the police service, which is now being conducted by officers from the UK Metropolitan Police. .
‘That Commissioner of Police misled us into believing that helicopter was capable of doing what we, as policy directors, asked it to do,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘We did not get value for money on the helicopter.’
‘I apologise to my country for being so misled,’ he said.
Tourism Minister Charles Clifford also expressed disappointment about the advice Cabinet had received on the helicopter’s capabilities.
Mr. Kernohan left the Cayman Islands several months ago to attend to a private family matter in his native Scotland following his removal from duty by Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack on 27 March. The commissioner is still receiving his full salary while being investigated by officers from the UK Met police in relation to the on-going misconduct probe at RCIPS.
Officials said the issues with the police helicopter were not a part of the UK Met investigation.
Mr. Kernohan was unreachable for comment at press time. Calls to the RCIPS and the Governor’s office regarding the matter were not immediately returned.
The statements by government ministers about the helicopter were decidedly less optimistic than earlier comments by Acting Police Commissioner David George, who was brought in from the UK Met as a temporary replacement for Mr. Kernohan.
Mr. George told the Caymanian Compass in August that he hoped to have ‘something that looked like a helicopter unit’ together within three months, and that the aircraft itself would possibly arrive on island by the end of this year.
The helicopter was first expected to arrive in September 2007.
Mr. Tibbetts said, if the aircraft could still be outfitted with the necessary equipment, that timeline was not unreasonable.
‘Efforts are now under way to ascertain the practicality of equipping the unit for those requirements,’ he said.
However, if it was simply too expensive to outfit the helicopter, Mr. Tibbetts said government would likely look to put it on the market and perhaps purchase another aircraft.
Cayman contracts with Cayman Islands Helicopters for use of its aircraft in police operations. However, that craft cannot operate at night on the Sister Islands either and is only used to perform certain patrol and search and rescue operations in Grand Cayman.
‘It has served well on many occasions,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘That in itself has helped reinforce to us the value of a helicopter.’
Ministers were asked whether they would support Mr. Kernohan being reinstated to his position if he is cleared by the UK Met investigation.
‘If I have anything to do with it, it wouldn’t be during my tenure,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘No way. If he is reinstated, I am making representation to England to stop it.’
‘But the governor is who hires and fires the commissioner of police,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
Caymanian Compass journalist Alan Markoff contributed to this report.