Northward camera scandal: Ex-prisons manager tells her side of the story

A former Cayman Islands prisons manager whose contract was not renewed last year in the wake of a “hidden camera” investigation at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward, alleges that she was “victimized, bullied, spoken down to, ignored” and had her “opinions dismissed” during her period of employment.

“I was … made to feel unwelcome from the day I walked into Northward Prison,” said Nina White, a veteran U.K. prisons officer and manager who spoke to the Cayman Compass this week for the first time about her situation. “This disgusting behavior was coming from other senior members of staff … not all, but most. I have never experienced or dealt with such savage and spiteful behavior in my professional career.

“I was warned on day one to ‘watch my back’ and I sadly didn’t realize how true that piece of advice would end up being. I was humiliated in meetings, spoken down to and constantly dismissed in the work I was trying to do. I was called a ‘know it all’ as I understood the U.K. policies that [Prisons Director Neil] Lavis was slowly introducing to the Cayman prison service and I was victimized for being British.”

However, Ms. White was quick to clarify that these problems seemed to exist only at the prisons managerial level.

“The majority of general staff and the prison population were much more welcoming and enjoyed my fresh approach and ability to deal with prisoners in a decent and human way,” she said.

In April 2015, Ms. White said she noticed a camera that had been placed inside an air conditioning duct in her office “because I’m observant,” she said. She reported it to prisons authorities and “fully cooperated with what ensued afterwards.”

What “ensued” was a nearly two-year internal investigation into the matter that led to the suspension of Ms. White and Prisons Deputy Director Aduke Joseph-Caesar – who ordered the camera placed in Ms. White’s office – as well as the suspension of the prisons officer who carried out Ms. Joseph-Caesar’s orders.

Ms. White ended up being suspended for 15 months and was terminated in February 2016 by then-Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush. She was reinstated by order of Governor Helen Kilpatrick, but only through the end of her contract, which was in April 2016. She was not offered another contract.

“Communication with the ministry was infrequent and minimal throughout,” Ms. White said. “I was constantly chasing to find things out and I was promised dates for things which would be canceled and pushed back all the time. It was very distressing to be in this situation and have no support or guidance.”

Why the camera was placed in Ms. White’s office is still something of a mystery, nearly two years after it was found. The only clues so far came in two Feb. 10 letters addressed to Ms. Joseph-Caesar from new Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Wesley Howell.

The text of one letter read: “We hereby undertake that no further disciplinary proceedings shall be instituted against Ms. Aduke Natalie Joseph-Caesar, Deputy Director, Rehabilitation, attached to Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prisons Service (HMCIPS) in relation to the incident on or about April 2015, whereby Deputy Director Caesar issued instructions to a junior prison officer to install a camera in the office of the then-Custodial Manager, Ms. Nina White with a view to collecting evidence in relation to allegations of inappropriate behavior by Ms. White with prisoners.”

A second letter cleared Ms. Joseph-Caesar of any wrongdoing in connection with the hidden camera investigation. Mr. Howell and Prisons Director Lavis have declined to comment further on the issue. The Ministry of Home Affairs was contacted for comment Tuesday, but nothing had been received by press time.

Ms. White denied any allegations of “inappropriate behavior” in her statements to the Compass.

“All I know is that a number of unfounded allegations were made [by two prisons staffers] … which were malicious and unfounded and were not – and could not – be supported by any evidence,” Ms. White said.

Ms. White also denied that it was a prior working relationship with Mr. Lavis in the U.K. that got her the Cayman job. She said she scored competitively in the job interviews, as well as with overall qualifications.

“I got the job in Cayman because the panel of four, which included Aduke Joseph-Caesar, scored me highest and picked me,” she said.

Ms. White knew Mr. Lavis as a governor at Eastwood Park prison in the U.K. where they both worked, but he was not her line manager, she said. After Mr. Lavis left that area in 2004, Ms. White said the two had not kept in touch.

“He was not my friend,” she said. “ I didn’t have his mobile number and I wasn’t his friend on social media.”

Ms. White said she began working with the U.K. prisons service in 1998 and progressed through the ranks to custodial manager by 2012. A year later, she said, she decided to take a voluntary redundancy package offered by the government, and worked part time at a local coffee shop to “keep herself busy” while considering next steps. She said her qualifications were at least equal to, if not greater than those of her counterparts at the Cayman Islands prisons service.

“My understanding is that prior to Mr. Lavis introducing a structured interview process for staff/promotion, it was down to whom you know and not what you know,” she said. “I know the longer serving custodial managers couldn’t even produce evidence of a formal interview for their position.”

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.