No charges for Rankin in viral voice note controversy

A police investigation into a so-called ‘viral voice note’ by businessman Mario Rankin, including false allegations about the governor, has been dropped.

The voice note briefly flared into a minor controversy during the early days of the coronavirus crisis and Rankin was arrested on suspicion of spreading false rumours that could cause public alarm. He was informed Friday that no formal charges would be brought.

Rankin acknowledged at the time that he had recorded the note, which suggested Governor Martyn Roper had organised the first British Airways air bridge flight from London to Cayman in April in order to get his wife Elisabeth back to the island.

In fact, Mrs. Roper was not on the flight and only recently returned to Cayman from the UK. The air bridge was the first of several flights bringing medical supplies and returning nationals from the UK to Cayman and facilitating evacuations for island residents who had lost work.

The governor initially described the note as a “fake news attack”, and Premier Alden McLaughlin publicly apologised to him on behalf of Cayman, describing the note as “vile” during a televised press conference. Police Commissioner Derek Byrne announced a police investigation at the time, saying officers had a “suspect in mind”.

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Neither man named Rankin personally at that point, though he was widely known to have sent the message.

At the time, Byrne said the investigation was over a potential breach of section 64 of the Penal Code which prohibits anyone from publishing a ‘false statement, rumour or report’ with the potential to cause ‘fear, alarm or distress’ to the public.

Rankin acknowledged in a radio appearance that he had sent the note. He said he had distributed it to a few friends in a WhatsApp chat group and had not intended for it to be shared any more widely.

He was arrested in April in relation to the alleged offence. After being bailed three times, he was informed Friday that a decision had been taken not to pursue charges.

“I am glad the DPP (Department of Public Prosecutions) decided not to proceed with any action because it would have been setting a bad precedent that people can’t share their personal opinion on a private chat group,” he said.

Rankin said it was regrettable that the premier and others had spoken publicly about the alleged offence before any charges were brought.

He said he hoped everyone who had been “quick to judge” would now see that no crime was committed.

Police confirmed the investigation was no longer being pursued.

The DPP said it does not comment on individual cases.

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