Suspended sentence for misconduct in office

Defendant was civilian employee at GT police station

Patricia Monique Webster, 31, received a suspended sentence last week after pleading guilty in March to two counts of misconduct in public office.  

The offences occurred in August 2011, when Webster was a civilian staff member in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. She was working as a communication officer at the front desk of the George Town station. 

In his reasons for sentence, Justice Charles Quin emphasised that Webster was not a police officer but she was in public office. 

He pointed out that her duties brought her into contact with a great deal of police information data, including personal contact details of victims and witnesses, who was being investigated and details of criminal records.  

Details of the charges against her were that Webster abused the public trust by making extensive searches of the confidential police database and soliciting information from the immigration database. 

The Crown’s case, presented by Crown Counsel Laura Manson, was that Webster searched to ascertain whether a particular person was the subject of a criminal investigation; and then to obtain the personal telephone number of another individual and pass that number on to a third party. 

In the first instance, she was trying to find out if there was an immigration “stop notice” on someone. When interviewed by police, Webster said she did not know she was doing anything wrong; she was simply trying to help a friend. 

In the second case, she said she was asked by a former fellow employee for someone’s phone number. She found it in the police database and passed it on.  

When interviewed, she agreed she had passed the phone number on without the person’s permission because she believed that person and the one who made the request were good friends. She explained that she intended to notify the holder of the phone number of the request, but because of the pressure of work she did not manage to make the call. Justice Quin said she should have been aware of the requirement not to disseminate confidential information, since this was stated in her job description. 

Ms Manson and Defence attorney Ben Tonner agreed that there were no local cases to give guidance for sentencing. They cited several UK cases. 

Justice Quin quoted from a Northern Ireland case: “The amount of private information about each and every single citizen in this country, available to public servants, has increased and with modern technology continuing increase is virtually inevitable. Citizens are entitled to assume that the information so kept will only be made available to those entitled to see it and only for the express purpose permitted by law.” In this case, regarding the first charge, Webster made no secret of her attempt to obtain information, even copying her request to a Senior Immigration Officer. She did not erase BBM messages from her Blackberry. 

In the second case, Justice Quin pointed out, the phone number Webster’s former colleague wanted was listed in a local telephone book.  

He noted that Webster did not seek to obtain any benefit, financial or otherwise. 

When someone abuses a position of trust, the court must consider an immediate prison sentence, the judge said. 

Webster’s offences were at the very low end of the scale, he concluded, and she had been extremely foolish in not considering the serious consequences of her actions. 

Offences of this nature to require a sentence of imprisonment and he imposed nine months. However, he suspended the sentence for 12 months because of Webster’s lack of criminal intent and the fact no reward was involved. Further, she had no previous convictions, made early admissions and pleaded guilty. Justice Quin said he was also taking into account the fact that Webster was the sole provider for her two children and to send her to prison immediately would have a devastating effect on them. 

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