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Judge rejects bid to drop malicious prosecution case

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The Supreme Court declined to strike out allegations of malicious prosecution launched against a police officer.

Dantae Williams and Teshae Trott launched legal action against Detective Chief Inspector Peter Stableford and the Attorney-General of Bermuda over a 2021 case in which the pair were charged with breaching Covid regulations.

Mr Williams and Ms Trott were accused of unlawfully mixing households in the midst of the pandemic. However, the criminal case was thrown out in May 2022.

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

The pair have alleged there was no basis for a prosecution because Mr Stableford knew they were living together.

Assistant Justice Hugh Southey, KC, said in a written decision dated May 10: “The plaintiffs essentially allege that Mr Stableford was aware that in fact the plaintiffs lived together.

“Reliance is placed on the fact that Mr Stableford denied in evidence in chief during the trial that the second plaintiff lived with the first plaintiff.

“However, when confronted with a tape of a conversation that was said to show that Mr Stableford knew that the second plaintiff lived with the first plaintiff, Mr Stableford’s evidence changed.

“He accepted that the second plaintiff lived at two addresses including one that she shared with the first plaintiff. It is pleaded that the prosecution was then abandoned in light of this change of evidence.”

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Stableford (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Mr Stableford applied for the case against him to be struck out on the basis that it was an abuse of process and there was no evidence to support the allegations of malice and dishonesty.

He noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions had found there was enough evidence to bring the case to court.

However, Mr Justice Southey determined that there was a properly arguable case for malicious prosecution and it would be inappropriate to strike it out at this stage.

“It appears to me that I cannot say at this stage that a trial judge would be unable to find that the change was significant enough to demonstrate dishonesty,” he wrote.

“The best evidence of the significance of the change in the evidence was the reaction of the prosecution and the trial magistrate. It is pleaded that both regarded the change as undermining the prosecution case.

“At this stage when I have not heard oral evidence, it appears to me that it is not open to me to reject what is said to have been the reaction of prosecution and the trial magistrate.

“They were in a better position to assess the significance of the alleged change of evidence as they heard oral evidence.”

The judge also declined to strike out the claim against the Attorney-General on the basis that, while Mr Stableford was a police officer, he was not acting in that capacity when he reported the matter.

Mr Justice Southey said the question would be a matter for trial.

He said: “It appears to me that any finding at trial that the first defendant [Mr Stableford] was acting as a prosecutor might well support the argument that he was performing police functions and so support arguments that the second defendant was liable.”

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