Net New letter’s mystery

| 17/05/2009

(CNS):  Of the various accusations made against Justice Priya Levers that led to the tribunal it was revealed during this week’s fact finding proceedings that the authorship of the series of letters critical of the judiciary which appeared in June and July of 2007 in Cayman Net News was the most serious. However, other than hearsay from a witness whose evidence has been cited as contentious, it became apparent that there was no other evidence that Levers was the author. When the publisher and managing editor of the paper took the stand the possibility that those letters were generated in house was raised.


Barry Randall the Managing Editor who is based in Miami and Desmond Seales took the stand on Wednesday and neither stated who the real author was, though Randall said he had no reason to believe it was Levers. During questioning by both Timothy Otty QC for the Tribunal and Stanley Brodie QC for Levers, it became clear that the sentiment in the letters was most definitely shared by Randall and had formed the basis of editorials written by him and Seales on a number of occasions. Randall admitted to criticising the local judiciary, not least in connection to his own case and it was noted that one of the pseudonym’s on the letters was Randall’s own sister-in-law Betty Turpin.

Witness statements submitted to the tribunal by former staff writer John Evans also indicated that the letters could have been written by Randall. Combined with the various witness statements, the evidence from Randall and at time’s the bizarre evidence given by Seales, it was clear the letters could very well have originated inside Net News.

During the questioning neither men were able to answer the question as to why, when the real Thelma Turpin had called to say she did not write the letter attributed to her, nothing was done to try and establish who had written the letter using her name. Randall told the tribunal while he was curious he was not concerned and had no particular responsibility at that time for ensuring that letters are actually from who they purported to be from. “This really is a matter for the Cayman office, not for me, at that time,” he said.

Otty asked Randall about his own run in with the local judiciary and he confirmed that he had threatened legal proceedings against amongst others the Chief Justice, Justice Levers and Foldats, the clerk of the courts and that letters critical of the judiciary have continued to appear in Net News since the tribunal was announced. When asked by Otty about Evans’ suggestion that he was the source of the letters Randal said: “Mr Evans is grossly mistaken.”   

Brodie then questioned Randall with regard to an editorial dated 26 July 2007 the day before the Leticia Barton letter appeared entitled “Judicial Responsibility” which included a quote from Lord Bingham, similar points critical of the Chief Justice, the judiciary in general and the legal aid system as noted in the Leticia Barton letter the next day, as well as references to Randall’s own case.

Brodie then asked if Randal saw this all pure coincidence. “So far as I am concerned, yes,” he said. Asked if he felt it was a possibility that the Leticia Barton letter was also not a genuine letter but generated in house he said it was a possibility that he did not rate very highly.

When Seales, the published and editor in Chief of Net News, came to the stand Otty questioned him extensively about why, when he had said that letters had been generated in house before he did not seek to find out who was the real author of the Thelma Turpin. Seemingly not to understand the questions Seales however admitted a failure in due diligence. When pressed further he kept saying there was no need to investigate the letter as it was signed by Turpin who he had known for thirty years. Asked why when he found it was not written by Thelma Turpin he did nothing to discover how it came to be published Seales said because he had taken her at her word. Otty noted however that she was not the author. Again Seales said, “I took her at her word, sir.” At which point Sir Andrew Leggatt the Chair of the tribunal noted that if Seales did not understand the question he should not answer.

Otty then continued and asked him if there was concern that accepting the word of Turpin that she was not the author someone other than her had sent in a letter purporting to be her.  “You knew that to be the case as soon as you had spoken to Thelma Turpin,” Otty said. “Were you not concerned to try and find out who, in fact, had sent the letter?”

Seales then answered: “There was no reason to because she said so, sir, you are not going to move me.”

Otty asked again if he was not concerned to see whether his own policies had been followed prior to publication of this letter and Seales asked “Followed by whom, sir?” Otty then pointed to his staff.  “Absolutely not,” Seales said. “They should have done so, they should have done due diligence, but they did not.  Now, sir, then it is incumbent upon me to do so?  I told you I have ten jobs to do.”

He said he had not raised it with his desk editor and had later discovered the original letters had been “trashed” and he could not throw any light on the authorship of the letters.

Asked about the evidence from Evans suggesting that Randall cold be the author of the letters and recounting a conversation between Evans and Seales about Seales saying Randall used the newspaper to fight his own personal battles, Seales denied the accusation.

“Did you tell Mr Evans on at least two occasions that you sometimes needed to keep a close eye on the material Mr Randall produced because he had a habit of trying to use the paper to fight his own personal battles?” Otty asked. “Poppycock,” Seales exclaimed. “He is not a journalist and I would not have him in my inner sanctum to make those sorts of decisions.”

However, Evans was employed by Net News as a reporter, evidenced by a reference letter submitted to the tribunal written by Seales where he acclaims Evan’s good character and his contribution to the paper as a writer.

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