Character witnesses for couple left stunned by verdict
A former Government Minister whose department was hit by a massive fraud said he struggles to accept that the couple who committed it are guilty.
David Burch was called as a character witness when Kyril Burrows and Delcina Bean-Burrows were sentenced to a total of 14 years yesterday for stealing more than $500,000 of taxpayers money (see main story.)
Burrows abused his position as buildings manager at the Ministry of Works and Engineering to commit the fraud by filing false invoices, which were signed off by co-workers who did not question them.
Lt Col Burch was Minister of Works and Engineering from October 2005 until October 2006, during the early stages of the long-running fraud.
To my knowledge I have always found them to be of the highest character and integrity, he said of the husband and wife, who he has known for decades.
Lt Col Burch explained that Burrows was professional and helpful to him in his role as Minister. He did not attend the trial and said he did not read about it in the press.
He explained that when he heard of the verdicts: I had the same reaction which I have today, which is shock and somewhat disbelief. I was not at the trial and I dont know what evidence was presented but its something I find difficult to process and to understand and to accept.
Prosecutor Susan Mulligan pointed out that the convictions came by the unanimous verdicts of a jury which heard from almost 100 witnesses and viewed hundreds of documents over the course of a three month trial.
Lt Col Burch responded: Because I know them, it still challenges my own belief and my own personal knowledge. I do have a respect for the rule of law and I know they have been convicted, but from my own personal view I do struggle.
Lt Col Burch, of Southampton, left Government last year and is now running as the Progressive Labour Party candidate for Warwick North Central in the next general election.
He was joined as a character witness by several other high-profile figures including a priest, customs officer and former school psychologist who also believe the couple are innocent.
Their family pastor, Arnold Hollis, who is Archdeacon Emeritus of the Anglican Church described them as wonderful parishioners.
He said of the verdicts: I was surprised, dumbfounded, when these decisions came because there was nothing in what I saw in them that would have made me believe there was such a matter going on.
Dr Hollis suggested the pair may have innocently engaged in behaviour that is common in Bermuda.
I accept that they have gone through a process in which they have been judged by their peers to be guilty but I have difficulty in accepting that, he said.
The innocence they have shown in my relationship with them makes me feel maybe they were innocently involved in something that they thought was the normal pattern of things.
Barbara Holder, a psychologist who worked in Bermudas schools with Mrs Bean-Burrows, an occupational therapist, also stated that she does not believe in the verdicts.
I dont think the jury were their equal peers, that was all. I thought it was people off the street as the jury and I dont think they were their equals. It should have been professionals, in my opinion, she said.
Dr Holder admitted when questioned by the prosecutor that she had no idea who served on the jury and was not aware of the selection process, which included input from the defendants.
OBrien Roberts, a customs officer, said: From the first time I met both of them their character has been of a high standard.
Ms Mulligan pointed out that the defendants perceived good character and high standing in the community was exactly what allowed them to commit the crime.
Unless they were considered to be upstanding and reliable they would not have been in a position to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, she noted.
Pusine Judge Charles-Etta Simmons signalled her displeasure at those who rejected the verdicts of the jury.
I hope you dont think that your trial was a travesty of justice, she told Burrows and his wife as she jailed them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If a travesty occurred at all, it was the way in which you sought to defeat justice and perpetrate fraudulent acts on the properly-constituted jury of your peers.
Thankfully, due to the skill of the prosecution team, their experience and knowledge of the hundreds of documents, you were unable to fool the prosecution and you did not succeed in derailing what was a fair trial.
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