The controversy surrounding absent Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan reached a fever pitch this week as the veteran UK cop was put under disciplinary review by the Governor, and an additional review was begun by the auditor general into the purchase of a police helicopter which Mr. Kernohan had long advocated.
On Thursday, the embattled commissioner shot back in a two-page statement, claiming he has been in regular contact with the Governor’s office and denying claims that he is on ‘compassionate leave’ from his job.
‘The Governor is factually incorrect as to the basis of my ongoing leave,’ Mr. Kernohan’s statement read. ‘I am on leave as required by the Public Service Management Law. In fact, the Governor of the Cayman Islands has no power in law to direct or control where I reside during the course of my period of required leave.
‘It is disappointing that the Governor should seek to air matters regarding the terms of my employment in a public forum such as the mass media, including the threat of disciplinary proceedings.’
The commissioner was already under a criminal investigation by officers from the UK Metropolitan Police related to alleged misconduct in a public office. He was placed on required leave, along with two other high-ranking RCIPS commanders, on 27 March to ‘facilitate’ that investigation.
He left Cayman about a month later to be with his dying father in the UK. That leave was extended following his father’s passing, according to Governor Stuart Jack.
Governor Jack said the UK Met investigation would continue despite what he said was Mr. Kernohan’s failure to respond to three separate requests to return to Cayman in July and August. It was not known at press time when anyone from the Governor’s office, or the UK investigative team, had last spoken with the commissioner.
A statement released Wednesday by Governor Jack read: ‘(Mr. Kernohan) would currently appear to be in violation of the terms of his employment, according to which he can only be absent with my agreement,’ Mr. Jack said. ‘His failure to return is a great disappointment to me.’
‘My decision allowing Mr. Kernohan to be with his father was a reasonable one, made in good faith and based on strong compassionate grounds. I take full responsibility for that decision.’
However, the commissioner stated he has always made himself available to the UK team when required and had maintained contact with the Governor’s office.
‘In fact, I have taken the initiative on several occasions to assure (Senior Investigating Officer) Mr. (Martin) Bridger that I would welcome an interview with him at the earliest convenience,’ Mr. Kernohan’s statement read. ‘Those correspondences have been largely ignored.’
‘I can assure the people of the Cayman Islands that I would welcome an outside, independent inquiry into all of these matters and those involved, including the Governor, the Chief Secretary, the Attorney General, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Mr. Bridger and his investigating team.’
Governor Jack said the commissioner is receiving full pay while the disciplinary process runs its course. He said his office was receiving legal advice about whether Mr. Kernohan, as well as Deputy Police Commissioner Rudolph Dixon and police Chief Superintendent John Jones should be allowed to continue on full salary.
Neither Mr. Kernohan nor Mr. Jones has been arrested or charged with any crimes. Mr. Dixon was arrested in mid-May and has since been charged in connection to matters unrelated to the misconduct probe for which the three commanders were removed in March.
Investigators with the UK Met team have pledged to make every effort to find and interview Mr. Kernohan regardless of his location.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said Thursday that he hoped issues surrounding the absent police commissioner would be resolved quickly.
‘We don’t need this hanging around us for any extended period of time,’ Mr. Tibbetts said, adding the Governor had contacted him Wednesday afternoon shortly before releasing the statement about the commissioner.
‘I don’t know all of the facts surrounding the situation with Mr. Kernohan,’ he said. ‘(His absence) is viewed, I believe, as gross insubordination. I am certain that Mr. Kernohan will be asked to provide a defence.’
Issues concerning whether the commissioner could or would be brought back to the Cayman Islands were unclear Thursday. If Mr. Kernohan was to be charged with a crime in absentia and he remains in the UK, it is possible that a judge there could order him to be sent back to Cayman. According to UK Extradition Act of 2003, authorities would have to be satisfied that Mr. Kernohan could receive a fair trial and would be protected from discrimination on the basis of his race, colour, language, religion, political opinions and national or social origins.
The commissioner has not been charged with any criminal offences and has not been arrested on suspicion of any offence. Mr. Tibbetts was asked about the possibility of extradition on Thursday.
‘There are extradition arrangements between the Cayman Islands and other territories, so it’s not that it can’t happen,’ he said. ‘The question is, ‘what does it warrant?”
Auditor General Dan Duguay was scheduled to meet with Acting Police Commissioner David George Thursday to begin a review of the process the Cayman Islands used to purchase a 1999 Eurocopter model helicopter for exclusive use of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
The $1.8 million aircraft, bought from a UK police service in 2007, was often advocated by Mr. Kernohan as an important tool for securing Cayman Islands’ borders and making RCIPS a modern police force.
Last week, Cabinet ministers criticised Mr. Kernohan for ‘misleading’ them about the capabilities of the helicopter, including whether it was able to fly night missions in the Sister Islands and if it could be operated safely over water.
Mr. Duguay said the Governor had asked him to conduct a special investigation into the helicopter purchase in a letter sent to the auditor’s office Friday morning.
‘We’ll want to look at the process of how they looked at what the helicopter should do,’ Mr. Duguay said. ‘That should be documented early. Assuming that’s there, we’d look at which helicopter would meet these needs.’
Government officials said $2.8 million had been spent on the helicopter purchase, shipping and additional equipment. The aircraft remains in the United States awaiting shipment to Cayman, however it’s not clear whether that will actually happen or if the vehicle will simply be sold.
Mr. Tibbetts said last week that government would do an analysis to determine which option would be more cost-effective.
Mr. Kernohan said he would ‘address in detail the matter concerning the acquisition of the police helicopter’ in a separate statement. The Caymanian Compass had not received that statement at press time.