Bridger left out on legal limb

| 26/05/2011

(CNS): Full story — As arguments opened in court today between teams of attorneys over claims made by former police commissioner Stuart Kernohan, it was revealed that the Cayman government's legal team was no longer representing the former senior investigating officer of Operation Tempura, Martin Bridger. As Martin Griffiths QC, who is representing the attorney general and the governor, argued to have the former and current governor (who is now cited on the new claim) and other issues struck from the writ, the question of why Bridger was no longer being represented by the AG’s office was said to be part of a closed ruling made some weeks ago by Justice Charles Quin.

Bridger, who is now one of five people listed in the claim, was represented at the hearing by local defense attorney Anthony Akiwumi, who has not yet made submissions in connection with his new client. The judge queried a number of times why he could not know the reason that the attorney general, who is also listed in the claim by Kernohan, was no longer acting for Bridger.

Sir Alan Moses of the UK Court of Appeal, who was brought in especially for this hearing, described the entire case relating to Operation Tempura as “opaque and bewildering” but also questioned why Bridger had been “hung out on a limb”. He said that this gave the appearance of adding fuel to the conspiracy theories alleged by the plaintiff (Kernohan) in his latest statement of claim.

The main focus of the current hearing, which opened in a public court on Thursday morning, is for the judge to rule on exactly who will be named in the claim when the case itself is heard, the circumstance of how far the claim will go and the issue of security of costs in the event that Kernohan was to lose.

The writ filed by Kernohan names the former governor Stuart Jack, the current governor Duncan Taylor, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, the former acting commissioner James Smith and the actual Operation Tempura senior investigating officer Martin Bridger. In response to the writ the AG's legal team is claiming that the only defendants who should be considered in the actual claim are the Attorney General's Office and Bridger.

Kernohan, who was fired in 2008 when he refused to return to the Cayman Islands during the Tempura investigation, despite the orders of the then governor Stuart Jack, says that the people listed in his claim were all directly involved in his suspension and subsequent sacking and they acted in bad faith.

The former top cop was one of three senior police officers removed from office during the discredited Tempura corruption investigation but he was never charged with any misconduct relating to the investigation or found to have committed any act of wrong doing.

He states that the governor and the attorney general were both party to the decision to allow two Cayman Net News employees to go looking for evidence of a corrupt relationship between the owner of the local newspaper Desmond Seales and Deputy Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis, so they should never have suspended him for that decision. Kernohan claims that by doing so both men are as liable as Bridger for the subsequent chain of events.

Griffiths argued, however, that if Kernohan has a case at all it is nothing more than a wrongful dismissal and the former governor cannot be personally liable for that. Griffiths claimed that Kernohan was not sacked because of his part in Operation Tempura or the alleged break-in to the newspaper offices by the employees but because he refused to come back to work, as he tried to steer the arguments away from the now notorious UK police investigation.

Answering the allegations by Kernohan of misfeasance in a public office, the AG’s attorney argued that the plaintiff had not offered anything like enough evidence for that to stand up and therefore he should not be allowed to make the claim.

Despite taking most of the day to present his case, Griffiths essentially argued that the suit should be edited down to a wrongful dismissal case against the attorney general and Martin Bridger. He also said that the financial claims made by Kernohan should be limited to the terms of what remained on his employment contract – which would amount to nine months pay and benefits — although he said that Kernohan’s attorneys should, according to the rules of the court, spell out that figure.

The UK based QC representing the AG also asked for costs in security of around $75,000 as he described Kernohan as an “extremely mobile and evasive plaintiff” that would prove difficult to enforce any financial judgment against were his claim to be unsuccessful. Thelawyer said that the legal team had already had to employ a private detective to track Kernohan down as his attorneys had failed to provide an address. Griffiths revealed that the former top cop was now living in Pasadena, California, where he is understood to have been completing his helicopter pilot’s license.

Kernohan’s legal team made a start on arguments of his behalf before the court was adjourned and said they stuck by their claim that this was a case of bad faith and in short the entire episode was outrageous. Andrew Hogarth QC, who is arguing Kernohan’s case, pointed out that the allegations they hoped to prove “were very serious”.

The core of the former police officer’s claim is that as Jack and Bulgin both knew what course of action Kernohan had taken in regards to trying to find evidence of leaks of police information to the owner of Net News, and to allow him to be suspended six months later for that action amounted to misfeasance and essentially an attempt to cover up their own culpability in the decision. Kernohan is also accusing all of the players of bad faith over the fact that a ruling made by the chief justice in refusing a search warrant to Bridger for Kernohan’s home had exonerated him even before he was suspended from office. This ruling however was not revealed until after he had been dismissed.

Hogarth will continue submissions on behalf of Kernohan spelling out why the governor, in particular, needs to remain on the writ and why the claim is much more than a case of wrongful dismissal. Lord Justice Moses said he would sit through Saturday if necessary to give the lawyers chance to thrash out all their arguments while everyone was present in the Cayman Islands in order to clarify exactly what and who will be in Kernohan’s claim when the case itself is eventually heard.

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