Archive for September 12th, 2009

Operation Tempura

Operation Tempura

| 12/09/2009 | 21 Comments

It is a tragic irony that Operation Tempura, a Metropolitan Police Service (Met) investigation into alleged corruption within the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS), will go down in history not for any successes in its target area but for the barrage of criticism the activities of the officers involved attracted and for the damage they did to policing in the Cayman Islands.

Although an official enquiry has yet to be launched, when it is a number of those involved will almost certainly be identified as having acted outside the bounds of the law and hopefully some will be made to account for their actions – only time will tell.

As former Commissioner Stuart Kernohan observed during Lyndon Martin’s trial, the Operation Tempura team hit the island with pre-conceived attitudes and stuck with them whatever evidence they turned up to the contrary. Within days of them contacting me they had, without apparently doing any kind of background checks, decidedLyndon was lying, Desmond Seales was innocent of all allegations and I was a ‘significant witness’. They had quite simply decided who was right and who was wrong, and then set about proving it rather than conducting a proper investigation. Quite what prompted this is still unclear.

However, the Senior Investigating Officer, Martin Bridger, admitted to me quite early on that he had been very impressed by the performance of Net News Publisher Desmond Seales during the Cliffordgate enquiry. This impression was apparently formed without any background knowledge of Mr Seales and before Mr Bridger had actually met him. Based on subsequent events, this had a profound effect on the way the whole operation was conducted.

After Operation Tempura went public on 27 March 2008 Cayman Net News published numerous misleading articles and editorial comments. It was, and still is, my opinion that this material was deliberately designed to prejudice the process that culminated with Lyndon’s acquittal. One editorial identified me as a future Crown witness then attacked my credibility, something unprecedented in my 20 years involvement with the media. Others published information supplied to Mr Seales by Martin Bridger during a confidential briefing on 16 March.

Over the months I repeatedly complained about this, first to Mr Bridger then to the Met officer in charge of the investigation, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, that the material being published was prejudicial to justice and that ignoring it was a violation of the human rights of those being targeted. Mr Bridger decided, apparently without taking legal advice, that this was a “personal” matter. Mr Yates’ office stonewalled me on the basis that the whole matter was sub judice.

In fact, as a sworn officer of the RCIPS, Mr Bridger was not in a position to make any ruling on the situation and had a legal duty, imposed on him when he took the oath of a Special Constable, to either properly investigate the complaints or, if he felt unable to do so, pass it on to a suitably qualified senior officer for action. In failing to do this, apparently in order to protect one of his key witnesses, he appears to have committed exactly the same crime that Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon currently stands accused of and Justice Henderson was falsely accused of.

Despite the complaints, on 1 October 2008 Net News was encouraged to print the first of a three-part editorial in what was apparently an attempt to influence public opinion in favour of the then-floundering investigation. The spin continued throughout the rest of the year with material quite clearly being leaked to Net News during a period of official news blackout while the Met tried to dig itself out of the fallout from the Cresswell ruling. Not content with operating as the PR arm of Operation Tempura, Net News then pitched in to defend the lawyer responsible for the illegal arrest of Justice Henderson from local criticism with disastrous results for the gentleman concerned.

Sometime last year a post on dealing with Operation Tempura asked the question, “who polices the police?” It was a valid observation because one of the things Operation Tempura revealed is that UK officers working abroad in this manner are effectively unaccountable. Unlike when they are on duty in the UK, there are no checks and balances. Based on my experience the officers concerned felt safe to do as they pleased and got very upset when I challenged that.

In the UK, my complaints plus the material revealed during Lyndon’s trial and the Cresswell ruling on Justice Henderson’s arrest would be more than enough to force a top level external investigation into the whole operation. Unfortunately, because the officers were working outside the UK it seems unlikely that will happen unless more pressure is applied. There are two bodies in the UK, the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), charged with ensuring that the Met comply with both the law and their own internal rules. My hope is that Lyndon, his lawyers or possibly even the Cayman Islands Government will now approach both these bodies and demand an independent investigation into Operation Tempura. Because this is a direct complaint against an operation overseen by the Met, the cost should be borne by the UK taxpayer not the people of the Cayman Islands and I believe the outcome of such an investigation would be the introduction of rigid guidelines for the future conduct of overseas operations that would prevent a repeat of the Operation Tempura fiasco.

While they are at it, some very serious questions need to be asked about the Governor’s handling of the whole affair. Particularly the decision to go public after the alleged Ennis/Seales connection had proved unfounded. Was there any need to go public or to put three senior officers on gardening leave? Based on what has happened to the RCIPS since, I think to call it an error of judgment would be very kind; it has been a disaster. On 27 March, by all accounts, Operation Tempura’s covert status had either been ‘blown’ or was unsustainable. The press conference was, according to my sources, almost a panic reaction, as were the decisions to arrest Lyndon and suspend three senior officers.

But wasn’t it obvious to any of them that going public on this and arresting the informant (whatever the motives) sent out a very negative message to any member of the public considering reporting anything to the RCIPS, an organisation that already enjoyed a reputation for not protecting sources? Probably not considering the decision to allow Net News to publish material that identified sources, attacked witnesses and published material about people accused of crime with complete impunity. In fact over 12 months the combined Tempura/Net News publicity machine has probably convinced most people in the Cayman Islands that any kind of cooperation with the authorities is a very bad idea.

Effectively, on 27 March 2008 Operation Tempura had achieved absolutely nothing. I know for certain that a number of serious complaints made to the team between September 2007 and January 2008 have never even been followed up, so why wasn’t the whole thing quietly wrapped up? One reason might be that at least one those involved had a vested interest in continuing the operation. Again something for the current Cayman Islands Government to start asking questions about, particularly with the Auditor General’s report on Operation Tempura due out any day now.

Lyndon Martin’s acquittal and the revelations made during the trial should have sent a very blunt message to everyone that this kind of outside operation does not work under the present regulations. Until officers involved in this type of probe are forced to comply with the same rules that apply in the UK it should be made clear that their presence in the Cayman Islands is no longer welcome.


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