Ex-top cop seeks at least $2M

| 28/05/2011

(CNS):Former police commissioner Stuart Kernohan is seeking at least CI$2 million if he is successful in his claim for wrongful dismissal. The figure represents what he could have earned as a senior police officer from the pointof his sacking by the then governor Stuart Jack to his retirement at age 60 had his career not been cut short by the chain of events following Operation Tempura. However, if the ex-top cop succeeds in proving that the governor and the senior investigating officer of the failed UK police corruption probe, Martin Bridger, both acted in bad faith, there could be millions more awarded to him in damages. During the second day of the hearing lawyers continued to argue over the claim made by Kernohan as to who could remain on it and why.

During arguments Friday morning Andrew Hogarth QC, who is representing Kernohan in his claim that not only was he wrongfully dismissed but that those involved acted in bad faith, told the Lord Justice Alan Moses that if the governor was not acting maliciously he was “hopelessly incompetent”, which, he said, was the position being advanced by the defence attorney representing the attorney general and governor’s offices.

The AG’s office has applied to have the claim narrowed considerably but Hogarth argued that the claim cannot be edited just because the defendants refuse to believe the facts in the pleading. The attorney said that the judge had to look at the facts that are alleged in Kernohan’s claim but he could not as the AG’s team wanted him to throw out the claim by assuming they were untrue before a trial had taken place.

Hogarth said that during the investigation Bridger had made the deliberate decision to ignore the rulings of the chief justice and plough ahead with the resulting consequences for Kernohan. The senior cop was left suspended for some fifteen months without any action, even when it was known by all the parties that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

He also claimed that the AG and the governor had instructed Kernohan to go ahead with the plan to allow two employees to hunt for a file that may have held evidence of police corruption at a newspaper office, but had not told Bridger this when he arrived to begin his undercover investigation. Hogarth said this showed a “malicious intention to distract attention from their own involvement” in the incident regarding Cayman Net News.

The QC continued to advance his position that the governor had acted in bad faith and was guilty of malfeasance in his treatment of Kernohan, not least because he was kept on ‘required leave’ long after he had been exonerated by the chief justice. However, the judge queried the claim of misconduct on the part of the governor suggesting it was more likely to be poor management rather than deliberately malicious.

“You can’t just fling around allegations of misconduct without spelling them out,” the judge noted as he pushed Hogarth to demonstrate the bad faith. Lord Justice Moses observed on a number of occasions that he was not convinced the plaintiff could necessarily argue it was all intentional when it did indeed look more like a “very silly way of running” things. He pointed out that there was a gap in the claim between the governor’s actions being bad faith or just bad management.

However, the judge said it was clear when Martin Bridger persisted with his investigation against Kernohan, despite the ruling of the chief justice, that the governor should at the very least have tried to reign in the senior officer and make him spell out the reasons for going on. He also noted that the CJ's decision had not been appealed.

When Anthony Akiwumi spoke for the first time on behalf of Bridger, he said that there was no avenue in Cayman law for Bridger to have appealed the CJ’s decision not to allow a search warrant for Kernohan’s house.  Akiwumi said that Bridger took the claim seriously as it appeared he had become the “sacrificial lamb” as he had been abandoned by the AG’s legal team and left to find his own representation to defend him against Kernohan’s claim.

Akiwumi, who came on record for Bridger when the hearing opened Thursday, argued to strike out the claims against his client. However, the judge pointed out that it was his defendant who had continued to advance the investigation against Kernohan despite the fact that the chief justice had pointed out that he had done nothing wrong and regardless of the consequences for the plaintiff. However, Akiwumi argued that Bridger had advanced his investigation with the blessing of the Cayman authorities, so he too had done nothing in bad faith.

The judge again raised the question over why the government or the FCO were not defending Bridger and why he was not allowed to know what was in the early the ruling that was given by Justice Quin that changed the shape of the claim and left Bridger out on a limb.

The judge will be making his ruling Saturday morning that will decide if the former governor Stuart Jack should remain in the suit and under what circumstances. Once that decision is made it will be up to the two parties to decide if the matter can be settled outside the court or whether the claim will be fought in a fully fledged trial.

Related article: Bridger pursues complaint re-Operation Tempura

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