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Senior police officer accused of malicious prosecution

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Stableford, who heads the Serious Crime Unit (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A senior detective has been described as “not a credible witness” by a magistrate and accused in a subsequent civil claim of knowingly giving false testimony in court by a lawyer who was his tenant.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Stableford gave evidence last May in a criminal case brought against attorney Dantae Williams and Detective Constable Teshae Trott for allegedly “mixing households” during a Covid-19 lockdown.

The case against the couple, who had lived together at an apartment owned by Mr Stableford and his wife, Gina, at their Warwick home, was thrown out by magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo when the chief inspector changed his evidence on the witness stand.

Mr Stableford had given three witness statements to police, saying he believed Mr Williams and Ms Trott breached the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Rules Stay at Home) Regulations 2021 and he made the same assertion under oath in court.

But the officer was then played an audio recording — made without his knowledge on May 13, 2021 by Mr Williams — in which he said it was “perfectly reasonable” for the lawyer to say Ms Trott lived at the apartment.

Mr Stableford, who is head of Bermuda Police Service’s serious crimes unit, said in the recording he could not refute that suggestion and would say Ms Trott was at the premises on a regular basis.

After hearing his own words during the criminal trial, Mr Stableford changed his evidence and acknowledged that Ms Trott was living at two addresses, including the apartment she shared with Mr Williams.

Mr Tokunbo, in a written judgment in response to a costs application from Mr Williams and Ms Trott, said: “The prosecutor offered no evidence at the end of the chief inspector’s cross-examination because their case collapsed when the chief inspector was [to his surprise] confronted with a recorded conversation he had with his tenant Mr Williams sometime after he had reported the alleged offence.

“In my judgment, the prosecution offered no evidence and the defendants were discharged because it became evident that the chief inspector, the main witness, had been playing both sides.”

Mr Tokunbo added: “He was not a credible witness, unbeknown to the prosecution until he was confronted [with the recording].”

The couple’s claim for costs on the basis that the prosecution was unfounded failed because the magistrate said prosecutors had “every right” to rely on Mr Stableford’s three witness statements to pursue the case.

A separate civil claim in the Supreme Court has yet to be heard.

That lawsuit, filed by Mr Williams and Ms Trott against Mr Stableford in January, seeks damages for alleged malicious prosecution; misfeasance in a public office; and breach of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and association, freedom of movement, and protection from discrimination on the grounds of race and place of origin.

The statement of claim alleges: “CI Stableford knowingly gave false testimony in court and knowingly gave false testimony for the purpose of instituting judicial proceedings against Mr Williams and Ms Trott.

“Alternatively, CI Stableford wilfully gave testimony in court which he did not believe to be true and which touched on matters material to questions concerning the criminal charge.”

The plaintiffs, in their January 18 writ, ask for a total of $805,000 in damages, plus payments for costs, interest on special damages, and any other relief the court considers necessary.

The statement says police analyst Loryn Bell was living in another apartment belonging to Mr and Mrs Stableford at their Warwick home and was in a relationship with Sergeant Dean Martin, Ms Trott’s immediate supervisor.

Ms Bell, Ms Trott and Mr Martin all worked within the serious crimes unit headed by Mr Stableford.

Ms Bell, according to the statement of claim, reported the alleged breach of Covid-19 rules to Mr Stableford and the latter then reported it to Chief Inspector Alex Rollin.

A criminal investigation was launched, which led to the Magistrates’ Court trial last May.

Mr Williams and Ms Trott allege that Mr Stableford discriminated against them, two Black Bermudians, while failing to report alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations by Ms Bell, a White British national, and Mr Martin, a Black British national.

As the trial of the civil action has not yet taken place, the allegations made against Mr Stableford remain unproven.

Damage alleged in the civil lawsuit

Dantae Williams and Teshae Trott, in their lawsuit against Detective Chief Inspector Peter Stableford, claim to have suffered undue and unwarranted mental stress, including fear, anxiety and intrusion, after being accused of breaching Covid-19 regulations, writes Sékou Hendrickson.

Mr Williams claimed he suffered damage to his reputation and will likely suffer continued damage and loss of opportunity for having been charged with a crime.

Ms Trott also claimed she suffered damage to her reputation after an e-mail circulated around Bermuda Police Service highlighting the criminal prosecution against her and Mr Williams. She said she was likely to face further reputational damage.

The police officer claimed to have been “treated like an outcast by her immediate supervisors” and was eventually placed on sick leave.

The couple are claiming “aggravated and exemplary damages”.

Mr Williams seeks $375,000 in damages and Ms Trott $415,000.

They are also asking for $15,000 for special damages associated with legal costs for fighting the criminal charges, as well as costs for the civil action, interest on special damages, and any relief the court considers just.

The couple denied breaching Covid-19 regulations by “mixing households” and the case against them was dismissed last May.

Mr Stableford declined to comment when contacted by The Royal Gazette in February. A message sent to his BPS e-mail address on Thursday got this out-of-office response: “I am currently on leave until my retirement. I will have very limited access to my e-mail during this period.”

It is understood that a complaint was made to the BPS’s professional standards department about alleged perjury but was not upheld.

Darrin Simons, the Commissioner of Police, said: “I am aware of the court judgment that contains comments about the officer’s evidence.

“Following the Magistrates’ trial, civil action was initiated that remains ongoing and, as a result, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further. The matter remains under review.”

Ms Trott and Mr Williams, a director at Marshall Diel & Myers law firm, declined to comment, via their lawyer, Saul Dismont.

The six-bedroom Warwick property belonging to the Stablefords is understood to be up for sale.

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