Police checks for Spirit crews
Youngsters training on
Spirit of Bermuda will have to undergo police checks in the aftermath of the Derek Spalding controversy.
The move was announced by the Bermuda Sloop Foundation after Supreme Court allegations that murderer Spalding smuggled guns and drugs in on the
He had been released from prison on parole just two months before taking the trip to South Carolina in May, 2006, and shot footballer Shaki Crockwell dead three months after arriving home.
During Spalding’s Supreme Court murder trial, two prosecution witnesses, Spalding’s father and a friend from prison, testified that he brought guns and drugs into Bermuda from the trip. The 36-year-old was convicted of the murder on Friday.
Denise Riviere, the executive director of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, said yesterday: “We have no way of knowing whether drugs and guns were smuggled in on
Spirit, but we do know that we can do our best to minimise the likelihood going forward.”
She stressed that “due diligence” was done in respect of Spalding, who had served ten years in jail for armed robbery, and all professional crew on the sloop already undergo police checks. However, in future, all applicants for the programme, which is aimed at 14 to 25-year-old trainees, will also undergo police checks.
“We constantly seek ways to improve policies and procedures, and even this situation has encouraged us to implement some new internal procedures as it relates to overseas voyage applicants,” said Miss Riviere.
“Derek’s situation was a little different because special due diligence was taken in deciding to accept him. However, we have now started to think a little more about our selection process for overseas voyages in general.
“I think we all want to remain in the days when the worst our youth would do is fight in school or be disrespectful to others, but today’s reality is that the issues impacting our youth are far more challenging.
“So now we will do a detailed assessment of voyage applicants and ensure that the professional crew are extra observant and have some policies and procedures in place at port to minimise the likelihood of dishonest intentions.”
That process will involve a police check on applicants prior to being accepted.
“We will look at our participant list to see if there’s anyone on the police radar for any reason. (If so) it means we will probably bring them in and interview them, depending on what comes back,” she explained.
“We probably do need to have a heightened awareness as kids now are getting into gangs at 13 or 14, so we do have to take the reality of where we are today and it’s probably a good idea that we check that a little bit more.”
Asked how Spalding, who had a history of drug dealing and violent crime, got permission to sail on the sloop in the first place, Miss Riviere replied: “Knowing Derek’s situation, his participation was based on referrals from the Parole Board, Marine and Ports, the Transitional Living Centre, and his positive interaction with some of our founders and the captain.
“In support of his ambition to eventually pursue a maritime career and to provide an experience that is known worldwide to build character and encourage good citizenship, the decision to allow him to join our overseas programme was made with due diligence and careful consideration; the goal being to give him an invaluable character-building experience and to encourage his career path.”
One Supreme Court witness who sailed with Spalding spoke of how he went off alone one night in Charleston. That witness also told how the
Spirit bypassed the usual Customs checks in St George’s when it re-entered Bermuda.
Asked how Spalding managed to get into the US, despite his previous convictions for armed robbery, Miss Riviere replied that he obtained permission from the US Consulate General.
As for why the sloop did not stop for Customs checks in St George’s when it came back to Bermuda, founder and chairman of the BSF board Alan Burland explained the hydraulic steering system malfunctioned on the return leg of the trip in question, meaning the emergency tiller had to be used.
“Because of this damage, the captain requested permission from Customs to clear in Dockyard, where
Spirit is normally berthed, rather than take the risk of stopping in St George’s first,” he explained.
“This extraordinary request for permission was granted and Customs cleared
Spirit in Dockyard. Captain Chris Blake, who was captain at the time, submitted to management a detailed report on the damage to the ship and on the protocols followed to get clearance permission.”
Miss Riviere believes that despite the “severe allegations” raised in the Spalding case, it has served to make the Foundation stronger.
“I have worked with a lot of organisations and I commend the founders, crew, staff, board members and donors who have worked with the Bermuda Sloop Foundation over the past six years, because the foundation we have is solid. We have made a positive difference in over 2,500 young people’s lives,” she said.
“For the past several weeks the Foundation has received comments from parents, donors and business partners, expressing how unfortunate this situation has been, and encouraging staff and crew to keep their heads up, because they believe in the positive difference
Spirit of Bermuda makes.”