Suspensions of senior police rock Caymans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

Britain's tiny Caribbean territory of the Cayman Islands has been rocked by the suspension of its most senior police officials, including the commissioner, while British Metropolitan Police officers investigate the local force.

Governor Stuart Jack has placed the islands' police commissioner, Stuart Kernohan, deputy commissioner Rudolph Dixon and detective chief superintendent John Jones on paid 'required leave'.

The governor and British investigators have refused to reveal the reasons behind the high-level suspensions, although the head of the nine-member Scotland Yard team said the three were not under investigation 'at this moment in time'.

All the governor and the veteran Scotland Yard detective in charge of the investigation, detective chief superintendent Martin Bridger, will say is that matters leading to the suspensions came to light while another investigation was taking place into allegations that a local newspaper proprietor was colluding with another senior officer - not one of the three suspended - who is currently on voluntary leave.

In that case, an employee of the Cayman Net News, one of the islands' three newspapers, has been arrested and charged with a number of offences, including perverting the administration of public justice, falsely accusing another of a crime, making a false report of the commission of an offence and burglary, arising from an alleged break-in at his boss's office.

The employee, Lyndon Martin, is a former member of the Legislative Assembly - a body similar to Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

Nine undercover British Metropolitan Police detectives took part in the investigation into the allegations made by Martin that his employer, Desmond Seales, publisher of the Cayman Net News, and deputy police commissioner Anthony Ennis had a corrupt relationship and shared confidential police information.

In announcing the suspension of the senior officers on March 27, Mr Bridger and Mr Jack said Mr Ennis and Mr Seales had been cleared in the investigation.

How that case relates to the current probe by the same team of detectives is not clear, and police have been tight-lipped on the subject, much to the chagrin of the local press and residents.

The lack of information from the police has led to the island's rumour mill, locally known as the 'marl road', going into overdrive.

This tiny territory 250km south of Cuba, with a population of just 55,000, is a close-knit community where most people already know the substance of news stories long before they hit the headlines. There has been much discussion about how the undercover police operation could have continued for more than six months without word getting out. Mr Bridger has appealed to the public and press to 'refrain from fuelling rumours'.

'In many ways, we find ourselves in a unique and difficult situation,' Mr Bridger admitted. 'While we want to keep everyone informed and update everyone at the same time, as with any investigation, we have a responsibility to the victims to let them know if any progress is made with the investigation.'

The belief is that by using an outside police force, information will not leak so readily into the public domain.

Announcing the placement of the police officers on 'required leave' - technically not an official suspension from duty - the governor, Mr Jack, said: 'No judgment has been made as to the guilt, innocence or other culpability of any person.

'The decision to put these officers on required leave was made to protect the integrity of the inquiries to be made. It sends a clear signal that, regardless of position, serious allegations will be addressed and that we are committed to pursuing the highest ethical standards in public office without fear or favour.'

The Caymans, despite their long stretches of white sandy beaches and the thousands of tourists who step off cruise ships there daily, are best known for their role as an off-shore financial centre and tax haven.

One single building, Ugland House, in the capital, George Town, is said to house more than 13,000 US companies, all nominally based in Grand Cayman - an issue that has prompted American politicians to call for investigations into whether these firms are illegally evading taxes. This led officers from the US Government Accountability Office to visit the island as part of an investigation last month.

However, the governor was quick to assure the financial community that the investigation did not relate to them.

Mr Jack has appointed an acting police commissioner, David George, a 30-year veteran of the British Metropolitan Police, to replace Mr Kernohan, a Scot, as head of the force while the inquiries are being carried out.

Mr George has taken over at a time when fears over violent crime in the country are on the increase. The Caymans have one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean, but, in recent weeks, a spate of drug-related stabbings and shootings, as well as fatal traffic accidents, had led Mr Kernohan to organise community meetings with residents.

Glaswegian Mr Kernohan has been in the media spotlight before. He made headlines in his native Scotland when he was dubbed a 'love rat' after becoming involved with a woman who was the chief witness in a murder case he was investigating and for whom he left his wife. He took up the role of police commissioner in the Caymans in 2005.

He has remained relatively tight-lipped since being place on enforced leave, but released a statement through an intermediary on the day the governor initially announced details of the case, saying he felt Mr Jack had 'cleared' his name when the governor said none of the suspended officers was under investigation for wrongdoing.

The police shake-up comes at a time when a heated debate on who should run the police force is under way. The ruling political party, the People's Progressive Movement, has called for more government involvement in the running of the force, which falls under the remit of the governor.

The wrangling over who oversees the police force is part of a country-wide debate in the run-up to a referendum into constitutional reform in the country, which comprises three islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

The British government has requested all its overseas territories review and modernise their constitutions. A referendum in the Caymans had been scheduled for next month, but has now been postponed until September as the wording of the referendum has not been agreed upon.

The Caymans' political and administrative make-up is similar to that of Hong Kong before the handover. It is run by a British governor and has a fully elected Legislative Assembly from which cabinet members are chosen, although the financial secretary and attorney-general are non-elected individuals appointed by the governor. The country's next election is due next year.