The decision from the Information Commissioner’s Office in the Cayman Islands on Tuesday ordering the release of reports relating to Operation Tempura shed some new light on the ongoing Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) investigation into Martin Bridger, the former head of the discredited and controversial internal police probe.
Martin Bridger, Head of Operation Tempura
The details of why he has been on the RCIPS radar for more than two years without ever being interviewed about his alleged crimes remains sketchy but it appears he is under the spotlight for the entire conduct of the ill-fated operation.
Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers’ latest decision reveals that Bridger is being investigated for misconduct in public office and six other unidentified offences in relation to Tempura. But questions over the parts played by many other senior officials from Cayman and the UK remain unanswered.
Liebaers’ ruling also shows that David Baines, the police commissioner, appeared unsure as to the grounds of the current RCIPS investigation into Bridger when he spoke with him about how the enquiry was impacting the release of the complaint and report.
“In the course of our conversations, the police commissioner … verbally indicated that he was uncertain which parts, if any, of the responsive records were relevant to the investigation of Mr Bridger. He said this would depend on where the evidence might lead the investigation and he was not sure what direction that might be,” Liebaers stated in his ruling.
”The non-committal nature of his answer was somewhat concerning, considering the investigation had apparently been going on for some time,” he noted.
During the course of Liebaers’ investigation, Baines indicated that some of the allegations relate to events that occurred sometime after the subject matter of the responsive records and outside the Cayman Islands.
“One of the allegations arises from a UK act, and it is not clear how it relates to what the governor’s office calls ‘Cayman Islands criminal offences’ which are alleged against Mr Bridger,” the acting commissioner wrote.
He said the governor’s office did not clarify the parameters of the allegations, such as their date or range, or any evidence to support the relevance of six out of seven allegations to the exemption of the records in question.
He said that only one of the allegations against Bridger relating to the offence of misconduct in public office is outlined and implies that the “entire conduct of Mr Bridger” was in question in regard to “everything that transpired in the three-year investigation” after he found there was no corrupt relationship between RCIPS Deputy Commissioner of the RCIPS Anthony Ennis and Desmond Seales, the publisher of the local newspaper, Cayman Net News.
“It may be determined that at that time Operation Tempura should have been concluded,” the governor’s office said in its submissions to Leibaers, as they implied that Bridger may have pressed on with the probe for his own advantage.
While Bridger would deny that the reason he continued was for his benefit, he has stated in the past that Tempura could have ended some three weeks after it started instead of lasting three years.
Larry Covington, Stuart Jack and Samuel Bulgin
But no one in a position of authority in the Cayman Islands ever disclosed that they were aware of the unauthorised break-in to the Net News offices. The police commissioner at the time, Stuart Kernohan, has always contended that Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, the UK’s special security advisor for the overseas territories, Larry Covington, and then governor Stuart Jack were informed and approved the plan to check out the corruption allegations against Ennis via the proverbial and actual backdoor.
As Liebaers tried to establish how the investigation of Bridger was impacting the release of the records, he was prevented from making a full study of the case files because Baines made a U-turn on his commitment to allow the ICO access.
Baines told Liebaers in August 2015, when he barred the information commissioner from the material, that he had “just appointed an investigation team which would need the files”, although Bridger told the information commissioner that he was aware the RCIPS had begun an enquiry about him more than two years before, in July 2013.
Other documents that the information commissioner referred to indicate that Bridger is accused of failing to perform his public duty, but the details have not been revealed. Liebaers also noted that the governor’s office’s continued attempts to keep a lid on the secret document will not stop media coverage because the probe has fuelled the flames of public interest. He pointed out that while they were claiming Bridger’s right to a fair trial, should there ever be one, would be undermined, Bridger himself disagrees and wants the documents to be released.
“The governor’s arguments on press coverage are somewhat unclear but the position seems to be that any public discussion of the responsive records, or indeed Operation Tempura, poses dangers for Mr Bridger’s right to a fair trial.” But, he said, discussion and debate of matters of great public interest “ought not be stifled lightly”.
“It seems certain that the media will publish articles and opinions on this subject, no matter how the question of disclosure of the responsive records is resolved, and that the police investigation and possible prosecution of Mr Bridger, itself, is certain to elicit continued interest.”
The arguments from the governor’s office were also weakened because numerous articles have already been published on Operation Tempura and the governor’s challenge to the disclosure of the records.
The negative impact of pre-trial publicity over the costs of Tempura and its aftermath, which Liebaers said exceeded US$8 million, not including the damages paid out to Justice Alex Henderson and Kernohan, was another argument used by the governor’s office, which pointed to the costs it has incurred keeping a lid on this report but made no mention of the costs of the ongoing criminal investigation and possible prosecution of Bridger.
The office implied that because of the pre-trial publicity of the huge costs of Operation Tempura costs, jurors might find Bridger guilty to make amends for the hefty bill. But Liebaers said not only do the records contain no information on the costs but the general public in Cayman is already well aware of the Tempura price tag, which is even more reason why the documents should all be released.
“It could certainly be argued that the high costs of Operation Tempura actually increase the need for transparency and openness, since there is an elevated need for government accountability where expenses are very high, as is the case here,” he noted. He added that if Bridger was charged, the record would be required in court to support his defence.
Bridger has previously stated that he quickly learned that Desmond Seales and Anthony Ennis were not in a corrupt relationship but he did have concerns about what he believed was a break-in to a newspaper’s office sanctioned by police top brass, which caused him to begin delving deeper into the RCIPS.
However, questions remain about which senior officials in the Cayman Islands and abroad were telling Bridger the truth.
Republished with permission of Cayman News Service