Trial hinges on key testimony
There are signs that the criminal trial of former Cayman Islands legislator Lyndon Martin may not be able to go forward later this month, unless investigators and prosecutors obtain the cooperation of a key witness.
That witness, former journalist John Evans, ‘fled’ – quoting his own words — to the United Kingdom last year citing concerns for his professional reputation and personal safety in Cayman.
Last week, Acting Police Commissioner James Smith sent Mr. Evans a letter requesting that he ‘continue to cooperate’ in the trial, which is scheduled to start 23 March.
‘I would wish to reassure you that the RCIPS (Royal Cayman Islands Police Service) is firmly committed to ensure the safety of all those involved in the criminal justice process and if you have any concerns about your personal safety, I am confident we can allay them,’ Mr. Smith’s letter read.
Mr. Evans has said on several occasions that he has no intention of returning to Cayman. He indicated he would be taking legal advice before responding to the acting commissioner’s request.
‘He should assume that I will not be returning,’ Mr. Evans said last week.
It is unclear whether Mr. Evans’ statements to investigators can simply be read in court or if he would be able to appear at trial via video or teleconference from the UK. He has previously said that he expects attorneys for Mr. Martin to insist he testify in person at the trial.
Mr. Martin is charged with offences related to the events that led up to a 3 September, 2007, entry into newspaper publisher Desmond Seales’ personal office. The former member of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly was working for Mr. Seales’ company when he was arrested on 27 March, 2008, in connection with various allegations.
Most of the charges against Mr. Martin have since been dropped. He now faces charges of falsely accusing another person of a crime, and of doing an act tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice.
Mr. Evans, also a former employee of Mr. Seales, admittedly entered the publisher’s office the evening of 3 September, 2007. He is quoted in court documents as saying he entered at the request of RCIPS officials to look for a box of documents that was said to have contained evidence of a ‘corrupt relationship’ between Mr. Seales and RCIPS Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis.
According to court records, Mr. Martin had previously accused Mr. Ennis of providing Mr. Seales confidential information that, if released, would have jeopardised police operations and placed officers in danger.
An independent team of investigators from the UK looked into Mr. Martin’s claims. The team’s Senior Investigating Officer Martin Bridger has said the accusations were ‘nonsense.’
Following that determination, three top RCIPS commanders were taken off the job. One of them, former Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan, has been fired. All three men remain under a criminal investigation, and suspended Deputy Police Commissioner Rudolph Dixon has actually been charged with criminal offences in an unrelated case.
Mr. Evans was never arrested or charged in connection with the entry into the publisher’s office.
The former journalist has made some allegations of his own regarding the handling of his witness statements by Mr. Bridger’s team and what he considers potentially libellous material published in the pages of Mr. Seales’ paper, the Cayman Net News.
According to an 11 February communication sent to Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, Mr. Evans stated that he had reported these concerns to both Mr. Bridger’s investigators and the RCIPS.
‘On 1st October, 2008 I asked (another investigator on Mr. Bridger’s team) to refer the first of a series of highly defamatory editorials published by Cayman Net News to the Grand Court…he refused to take any action,’ the 11 February communication read. ‘I have also repeatedly complained about the ‘unhealthy’ relationship that apparently exists between SIO Martin Bridger and Desmond Seales. This appears to have included the deliberate leaking of confidential information…to counter criticism from local politicians.’
‘I believe that my former employer intends to take some form of action against me…if I return,’ Mr. Evans continued.
In response to Mr. Evans’ writings, Chief Justice Smellie responded: ‘The concerns which you raise….are, of course, matters about which there should be the gravest public concern.’
Mr. Bridger has emphatically denied to the Compass any suggestion of an ‘unhealthy relationship’ between Mr. Seales and himself.
‘Mr. Seales and Mr. Ennis are the victims of an offence that is still under investigation,’ Mr. Bridger wrote in response to Compass questions last year. ‘As such I will continue to treat them as I would any other victim.’
Mr. Seales’ newspaper has published several editorials questioning Mr. Evans’ credibility and accusing him of ‘breaking in’ to the Net News office on 3 September, 2007.
The Net News also wrote in an 18 February editorial that police had ‘on at least three occasions’ been asked to investigate a series of letters the newspaper published in July and August of 2007 that were critical of the Cayman Islands judiciary and Chief Justice Smellie in particular. There was some concern that the letters, including at least one that was attributed to a Cayman Brac resident who said she didn’t write it, may have amounted to contempt of court.
The 18 February editorial stated that police ‘on each occasion have refused such requests (to investigate the letters) on the grounds that no offence is revealed on the face of it to warrant such investigation.’
However, when questioned about the editorial statements a spokesperson for the Cayman Islands government replied: ‘No current inquiries are being made by the RCIPS. The RCIPS has been in contact with both the attorney general’s chambers and the chief justice where the matter remains subject to further review.’
In his letter to Mr. Evans, Acting Commissioner Smith also expressed concerns about statements the former journalist gave to Mr. Bridger’s investigators.
‘I have sought re-assurance from Operation Tempura staff that they have accurately reflected your statement to the Solicitor General,’ Mr. Smith wrote.
‘From what I understand you are a firm believer in the administration of justice and I hope that you will continue to cooperate in the scheduled trial,’ the commissioner’s letter to Mr. Evans concluded.