Smith Cove handbag thief imprisoned for 12 months

Magistrate says crime that negatively impacts Cayman’s tourism industry needs deterrent sentence

A vacationing police officer and a tour bus driver detain Al Handel Pearson after he snatched a bag off the beach at Smith Cove on Dec. 30, 2015.

A man who admitted stealing a handbag from a female visitor at Smith Cove was sentenced on Monday to a year in prison.

Sentencing Al Handel Pearson, Magistrate Valdis Foldats said any crime that negatively impacted the tourist industry had to be met with a deterrent sentence. The magistrate handed down a term of 12 months immediate imprisonment plus a suspended sentence, as well as community service.

Pearson, 42, pleaded guilty to stealing a handbag that belonged to a passenger from the Carnival Breeze cruise ship around noon on Dec. 30. She was in the water at Smith Cove at the time, with the handbag on the beach within her view.

She saw Pearson approach the bag and shouted at him to stop, but he grabbed it and ran. She and her husband gave chase, as did other people, including a tour bus operator and a New York policeman on vacation.

Pearson was caught and held until police arrived. The handbag was recovered.

The magistrate said that for theft of a handbag in a tourist area, his starting point would be one year for an offender with no previous convictions. He noted that Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn had recently identified 12 months’ imprisonment as a suitable starting point for such offenses where the offender is of good character.

Pearson, who had previous convictions, was not of good character, the magistrate noted. Deterrence for this defendant required an increase to two years’ imprisonment to send a message to other offenders with convictions for property offenses, he indicated, before giving discounts.

Defense attorney Nicholas Dixey asked for a sentence of “time served” – Pearson being in custody since the incident – and community service so that he could make reparation to the community for what he had done.

Mr. Dixey said this approach would serve as a punishment; it would also have a rehabilitative effect, as it would impose a work structure in keeping with honest employment.

The attorney compared Pearson’s offense to pick-pocketing on Oxford Street in London, and suggested that such offenses in England and Wales would not attract sentences of imprisonment of a length that would be reserved for more serious offences of dishonesty.

In reply, the magistrate pointed out that while pick-pocketing was a problem that has been present on the streets of London since the time of Charles Dickens, thefts from tourist areas in the Cayman Islands was an alarming new development that merited a sentence of deterrence. Such offending had to be stopped before it becomes common, he emphasized.

Dealing with Pearson directly, the magistrate accepted from Mr. Dixey that his client was genuinely remorseful and recognized that his offense was bad for tourism.

Starting at the two-year mark, the magistrate said he would give a full one-third for Pearson’s guilty plea. Guidelines say full credit need not be given where evidence is overwhelming. In this case a bystander took a photo of Pearson sitting on the ground with two men holding him down and a handbag nearby.

Subtracting one-third to reflect the guilty plea and the remorse expressed by the offender, the magistrate reached 16 months. He said he also felt able to suspend four months of the sentence for two years, on the condition that the offender consent to undertake 80 hours of community service.

Pearson did consent. He is to receive credit for his two-plus months in custody.



  1. Sure he was remorseful. He is remorseful he got caught.

    And nice that he pled guilty but he WAS caught red-handed so he would certainly have been found guilty anyway.

    Kudos to the people who apprehended him. Now let’s keep track of his DNA and fingerprints so he can be instantly caught if he re-offends on release.


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