Police probe costs top $1.67M

Costs for the independent investigation into allegations of misconduct at the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service are well above the $1.67 million figure reported in the Caymanian Compass last month.

That figure of $1,668,611 only covered the costs for the investigation through 30 June, 2008.

In a marathon meeting Friday night, members of the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee questioned the investigating team’s senior member for more than two hours before approving requests for supplemental funding of $1.67 million for the UK police team.

Four of the five elected government ministers were not present when the vote on the funding was finally taken.

‘That money is long since spent,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said. ‘When this was brought to elected ministers’ attention, this money was long since spent. We’re going through an exercise’

Senior Investigating Officer Martin Bridger told the committee that more than $1.1 million had been spent on personnel for the investigation. He said some $500,000 had been spent on equipment, lodging, travel and other related expenses.

Mr. Bridger did not reveal, nor did government officials ask, how much had been spent in the current financial year which began on 1 July.

Rough estimates based on what the team spent since it arrived in early September 2007 might calculate monthly costs at an average $167,000.

However, Mr. Bridger also revealed that he has two separate teams working in the Cayman Islands. The first is the original team of investigators, now numbering seven, looking into the initial allegations of misconduct against three top RCIPS commanders.

A second team, which Mr. Bridger said numbered five as of Friday, is looking into other complaints which have come to the investigative team after the public became aware that an investigation into the police was being conducted.

‘It is clear to us at this stage…that the RCIPS do an excellent job in the Cayman Islands,’ Mr. Bridger said. ‘But there are some systems and processes that can be improved. Phase 2 (of the investigation) will show there are areas of training that can be improved.’

Mr. Bridger also noted that many local police officers have a difficult time coming forward to report wrong-doing within the department. He said it was a ‘cultural issue’ that he wanted to change.

‘To make it a better police service…which I and my team want to be a part of,’ he said. ‘No police service can be successful unless it has the support of the community.’

Finance committee members seemed caught off guard by the announcement of a separate investigative team.

‘This is sounding like this is something that’s going to be around for a long time,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘Can Mr. Bridger say how long this siege will continue? What is the remit? When is it ever going to end?’

‘It seems like we’re casting about to find something for these officers to do.’

Mr. Bridger said he totally refuted that last statement from Minister McLaughlin.

‘Not once did I go looking for people to speak to,’ Mr. Bridger said. ‘A large number of people (have come forward). Each one of those people, bar one, agreed to have been tape recorded. Whatever systems and processes were in place before in the RCIPS (to report wrong-doing)…people didn’t have confidence in them.’

‘I don’t know how long we’re going to be here.’

Keeping secrets

During finance committee testimony Friday night, Mr. Bridger said he came to Cayman with the expectation that he and other investigating officers would be here for about six weeks.

He said his investigation turned up other evidence while looking into apparently false claims against Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis and local newspaper publisher Desmond Seales. Those allegations led to the removal of Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan, Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon, and Chief Superintendent John Jones.

Governor Stuart Jack’s announcement in March that officers from the UK Metropolitan Police Service had been in Cayman since last year investigating various allegations of misconduct against several senior officers in the RCIPS were the first inkling the public had of the on going probe.

Cayman Islands Chief Secretary George McCarthy said Friday that officials first intended to keep the entire investigation secret and ‘absorb the costs within the RCIPS budget.’

However, as the case dragged on, Mr. McCarthy said the realisation was made that additional monies would have to be approved and that elected members of Cabinet needed to be consulted.

Mr. Bridger said he has appeared before Cabinet at least three times since then to brief them on cost issues and the details of his team’s investigation ‘in the most general terms.’

Mr. McCarthy said a group within the Portfolio of the Civil Service consisting of himself, two other senior civil servants and a member of the Government Information Services staff have been acting as a ‘strategic oversight group,’ fielding Mr. Bridger’s funding requests.

‘We will hear details of the costs,’ Mr. McCarthy said. ‘Each step along the way…the information is being shared.’

Mr. Bridger said he has kept records of every expenditure requested by his team and would be able to produce those records to the Governor, the oversight team, or a court.

Finance committee members did not ask for those records, and Mr. Bridger has refused on numerous occasions to release them to the press.

The investigation

Although he cautioned finance committee members about asking for specific details of his team’s initial investigation, Mr. Bridger did answer some questions about the various cases.

Public scrutiny of the UK Met officers’ operation heightened this month when the Compass reported that Cayman’s Chief Justice, Anthony Smellie, had denied search warrants against Mr. Jones and Mr. Kernohan back in April due to a lack of evidence that the men had committed any crime.

Finance committee members asked whether the two commanders’ homes had been searched after the Chief Justice’s refusal to sign the warrants. Mr. Bridger said he was not prepared to answer that question.

Mr. Bridger said he expected to interview Mr. Kernohan and Mr. Jones soon. He said he would first ask Mr. Kernohan to return to the Cayman Islands for those queries, but said he would travel to Scotland to speak to the police commissioner if he did not come back.

Governor Jack has said Mr. Kernohan refused three requests to come back to the Cayman Islands this summer. Mr. Kernohan has said he is under no obligation to do so while on required leave from the RCIPS.

The week before the Compass report on the Chief Justice’s decision, Cayman Islands Grand Court Judge Alexander Henderson was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office. However, there is no known record of the UK officers having made any application to a court to affect that arrest or the subsequent search of Mr. Henderson’s home or office.

Mr. Bridger blasted both Chief Justice Smellie and Mr. Henderson in a statement released last week. He accused the Chief Justice of improperly releasing documents which might prejudice an on-going investigation and chastised Mr. Henderson for making what Mr. Bridger said were incorrect statements about the reasons for his arrest.

‘The decision to arrest Justice Alexander Henderson was not based on his refusal to give me a statement,’ Mr. Bridger said. ‘A decision of whether a criminal offence has been committed cannot reasonably be based on the information supplied for the application of a search warrant.’

Mr. Henderson has not been charged with any crimes.

An arrest warrant for the judge stated he improperly used his influence as a member of the judiciary.

Mr. Henderson declined to respond to Mr. Bridger’s statement when the Compass contacted him Friday. Chief Justice Smellie has not responded to our queries.