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Couple decry months-long wait for judgment on Covid-19 case

When will it end: Sophia Cannonier and her husband, Michael Watson (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A couple who were taken to court on charges of breaching Covid-19 protection rules have demanded a resolution to their trial after waiting more than nine months for a judgment.

Sophia Cannonier and Michael Watson had their Magistrates’ Court trial reach a close last September and were expected to receive a verdict.

But the magistrate overseeing the case, Khamisi Tokunbo, retired the same month, leaving the couple in limbo.

Since then, they said they have lost business, drained their funds and endured huge stress and public scrutiny.

Ms Cannonier said: “I walk into the Department of Public Prosecutions weekly and the prosecutor says ‘Ms Cannonier, I would like to see this case be put to an end as well.

“They don’t know what to do with us.”

The pair were accused of breaching public safety regulations in July 2021. It was alleged that they refused to follow the Government’s mandatory hotel quarantine for those who were not vaccinated after returning from a trip to Britain.

The couple argued that they had developed a natural immunity to Covid-19 after previously contracting the illness.

They further insisted that their natural immunity was on par with, if not stronger, than the vaccine against the disease.

The prosecution closed its case last September and Mr Tokunbo was due to announce a date when a judgment would be given.

However, according to Ms Cannonier, the former magistrate went into retirement and told the couple that he did not know when he would be able to give a judgment.

“We’ve been calling him every week since,” she added. “It’s been nine months.”

The couple had been previously critical about how their trial had been handled.

The case had faced repeated delays because of struggles to bring witnesses forward and miscommunication between parties.

The defence faced problems bringing witnesses from overseas to Bermuda, delaying the trial for several months.

The prosecution then struggled to get several witnesses to take the stand before closing its case after the witnesses refused to take the stand.

Ms Cannonier said that the delays had interfered with her business, which she said was a fitness centre that specialised in Pilates, aerial arts and pole fitness.

They said that, because of the hands-on nature of their jobs, they were unable to work during most of the pandemic, and the legal fees of their case are placing them deeper in a financial hole.

The protracted costs of the case, when combined with her inability to work during the pandemic, also led to Ms Cannonier owing more than $40,000 to her studio’s Devonshire headquarters, leading to her eviction in November.

She later moved her business, Padma Studios, to the Old Playhouse in St George’s, but was later forced to close.

Ms Cannonier said that she was looking to teach overseas to sustain herself — but will be unable to do so until her case comes to a close.

She added: “I have no business, my reputation is tarnished in many circles in terms of teaching – those who love me love me, and those who hate me hate me – and those circles are very wide.

Mr Watson, who works as a manual therapist, said he was able to maintain work.

But the pair added that all of their cash goes towards putting their children through school.

Ms Cannonier said: “Our work has just been funding our children’s education – we have not been making any money.

The case, Ms Cannonier said, also had affected the couple’s mental health and wellbeing.

“It’s a roller coaster,” her husband explained. “Any given day could give you a completely different situation.

“Fortunately we both have strong resolve — the work that we do is all about resilience.”

They have since filed an application with the Supreme Court requesting a judicial review of their case.

Eugene Dean, a supporter for the family, said that the couple had faced plenty of judgment over the publicity of their controversial case.

He said: “They say you’re innocent until proven guilty, but from the time you show up in the newspaper the public perceives you to be guilty.

“There was fallout because your reputation gets tarnished and then all of a sudden you have clients who don’t want to see you.”

Mr Dean added: “There have been a number of things that have come up that they have had to endure, not only as a result of the lockdowns but also as a result of them being in this court case, which has now spanned out to be about three years.”

The Magistrates’ Court did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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