Cabinet: ‘No more Met money’

Ministers want lead investigator off case

Cayman Islands Cabinet ministers refused to approve Governor Stuart Jack’s request for additional funding to help settle a wrongful arrest claim made by a Grand Court justice because they believe the United Kingdom government should pay for that settlement.

Part of the money sought by the Governor last week will also go to support an on-going independent investigation into alleged misconduct at the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

Governor Stuart Jack

Governor Stuart Jack

In addition to their position regarding Judge Alexander Henderson’s damages claim, Cabinet ministers also said they refused to fund any further enquiries by the independent police unit until its Senior Investigating Officer, Martin Bridger, is removed and sent back to the UK.

‘Given the reckless and incompetent way this has been handled, we do not believe this is something the Cayman Islands government should pay for,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said.

‘But the Governor has insisted that this is his responsibility. He has not listened and will not listen to our advice.’

Governor Jack announced late Friday afternoon that he had bypassed Cabinet using his reserved powers granted under the Cayman Islands constitution and had received approval for the additional cash from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

‘These powers should indeed be reserved for exceptional situations,’ Mr. Jack said in a prepared statement. ‘I know that many people wish the whole issue could just disappear overnight. But we live in the real world. Allegations – serious allegations – don’t just disappear.’

A team of police officers who originally hail from the UK Metropolitan Police Service have been in Cayman since September 2007 looking into various misconduct and corruption-related allegations at the RCIPS. Their investigations have led to charges against a former Cayman Islands MLA and a deputy police commissioner in unrelated criminal cases.

The team is also reviewing a number of complaints made against the police by local residents. A report on those complaints is due to be completed by the end of the week.

The Met police team has also made some mistakes. Officers have arrested two individuals, one of them Justice Henderson, who were cleared by the attorney general’s office after subsequent investigations. A search of Mr. Henderson’s home and office by the Met team in September 2008 was ruled illegal.

It was that search and arrest which led to Justice Henderson’s damages claim.

The judge’s claims have not been settled. The Caymanian Compass has learned a meeting between Mr. Henderson’s attorneys and the Cayman Islands Legal Department to discuss the matter has been set for next week.

According to Cabinet ministers, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin had refused to negotiate the settlement unless he obtained prior approval for some significant amount of funding.

Justice Henderson has previously said his damages claim would be ‘in the low seven figures.’

Minister McLaughlin said he realised Mr. Henderson would have to be paid some damages because a court had ordered it. He also said he did not want it to appear that Cabinet simply wished to stop the Met team’s investigation cold.

However, he said refusing to support funding was the only option left to local government to make its points about removing Mr. Bridger, and its desire to use UK funds to pay Justice Henderson.

‘Every decision regarding Justice Henderson’s situation was made by someone from the UK,’ he said. ‘This all comes down to poor judgment on the part of the Governor.’

Elected ministers in Cabinet have refused even to accept briefings from Mr. Bridger since the search of Justice Henderson’s home and office was ruled improper and illegal. Mr. McLaughlin said they met with Acting Police Commissioner James Smith on Tuesday, who gave few details of the on-going case and fully supported Mr. Bridger.

It wasn’t much of a briefing,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘We talked for a long time, but there was nothing really new.’

Acting Commissioner Smith said he met with both Cabinet and Cayman Islands MLAs last week, but he declined to discuss specifics about those meetings.

Mr. Bridger has repeatedly refused to comment about any aspect of his team’s investigation in recent months.

Governor Jack has previously said that $2.6 million has been spent on the independent police investigation from September 2007 through mid-November 2008. He has never provided a breakdown of the costs for the investigation.

An open records request made to the UK government for that information has been delayed.

For now, Cabinet ministers have said they will not approve further funding for the Met investigation while Mr. Bridger remains the team’s senior officer.

Mr. McLaughlin said Cabinet would reconsider if someone else was put in charge and if ministers were provided with a comprehensive report regarding the status of the case.

If the situation stays as it is, ministers said Governor Jack would have to use his reserved powers to secure any further funding for the investigation.

‘This is the only limited control we have over what’s happening,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.