In this season of goodwill, it is important to reflect on a recent example of petulance, obstinacy and outright arrogance by the Commissioner of Police over the recent acquittal of an innocent man accused of double rape. The facts of the case are simple: two women, white and British, in separate incidents alleged they were raped by a local man.Within a short period of making the reports, a man was arrested,interrogated and then charged with the rape offences. Almost as soon as they were invited to identify the man, both women said the accused was not the attacker and gave a number of identifying characteristics as evidence that the police had arrested the wrong man.
There was no forensic evidence, no DNA, only an alleged confession, obtained in custody while under interrogation, which was repudiated almost as soon as the accused appeared in court. In any civilised legal system, based on the old Roman principle that it was better that ten guilty persons go free than a single innocent one be wrongly convicted, that should have been the end of the case. Not in Barbados. Having been remanded in custody for eleven months, and the potential miscarriage of justice attracting the attention of the international press, the accused was released but not before the police, courts and the Guyanese director of public prosecutions prevaricated and delayed. It took the criminal justice authorities eleven months and a showpiece trial, worthy of the old Soviet Union, to work out that no properly constructed criminal court would have convicted the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, given the lack of evidence. First grade criminology students know that confessions are not themselves reasons for a conviction.
The literature is full of case histories of people claiming to have committed criminal acts when they were in fact miles away.What makes the injustice even more cynical is that at present two uniformed police officers are accused of sexually assaulting two tourists. Like all accused, they too are innocent until found guilty, but why are they on bail? If anyone is likely to interfere with evidence and witnesses it is likely to be someone familiar with the internal workings of the criminal justice system, not some middle-aged street man.
Had that demonstration of collective incompetence, even outright institutional dysfunctional backwardness been all, we would have been able to leave things at that. But what makes matters worse is a reported claim by the commissioner that although the accused was released it did not mean that he was not guilty.
Apart from the fact that the authorities already faced civil action for illegal arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, loss of earnings, damage to reputation (whatever his previous criminal history, two rape accusations would have further diminished him in society), and now defamation by the commissioner, alleging that although he was freed by the courts he was to his mind as guilty as sin. What is apparent about the commissioner’s reported ill-judged outburst, apart from giving us a glimpse in to the mind-set that has given us a management style that has led to the chaos at the very top of the Royal Barbados Police Force, is that he either did not care he was libelling the accused, or if he did, he did not care. It is the kind of police justice that we used to see in the old Jim Crow Deep South of the United States when if a black man was accused of raping a white woman (see Emmett Till) the Irish-Scots-sharecroppers would organise a posse to hunt down the accused and his associates to lynch them. It was also the underlying fear in South African apartheid and even in Britain in the 1950s and 60s when a black man seen in the company of white women was certain to be harassed (see Christine Keeler and Lucky Gordon).
In a mature jurisdiction, whatever the personal belief of senior police officers, the rule of law must prevail, we do not do lynch mobs, that is what makes ours a democratic and civilized society. Above all, the behaviour of the police and the apparent passive acquiescence of the Guyanese director of public prosecution and the attorney general, have together acted to undermine and discredit the Barbados legal system. What makes the whole episode much worse is the total silence of the professional middle class, especially our young lawyers and law students, none of whom thought of forming a defence campaign on behalf of the accused man. Their silence speaks volumes about the nature of Barbadian middleclass values and ethics, especially an elite that is prepared to allow a drug-running Cuban illegal immigrant to reside in the island onso-called moral grounds. It is an elite that would not recognize morality if it fell on top of their heads.
No doubt the commissioner has made it clear, if reports are right, that he wants to hold talks with a small group of decision makers; it is a self-validating group who no doubt will re-assure him that he has acted correctly. The commissioner is not above the law; he too must be held accountable and cannot be expected to mark his own homework. The public expects the police to perform their duties with integrity and fairness and not to abuse their office; they should build trust with the public. The commissioner is the guardian of the reputation of the police as an institution, he is responsible for public safety and a defender of due process, he is operational head of the RBPF and the public rightly look to him for leadership on law and order.Instead, what they find is a bad loser, behaving like a petulant, spotty faced teenager. Further, he should order the commissioner to resign, retire or face the sack; the attorney general should then a appoint temporary commissioner on a one-year rolling contract, which would give him time to identify and fast-tract two or three future commissioners, and, inso doing, save the reputation of the RBPF.