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Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley threatens to sue two suspended officers

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Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley
Pc Robert Butterfield (File photograph from 2006)

The Commissioner of Police has warned two serving officers that he will sue them unless they pay him compensation for causing “serious harm” to his reputation and “significant personal anxiety and distress” by allegedly making public a confidential court document.

A letter on behalf of Stephen Corbishley, from Nicholas Howard, at Walkers law firm, was sent in late January to Pc Robert Butterfield and to another officer.

The letter, seen by The Royal Gazette, referred to “certain misrepresentations and falsehoods” allegedly written by the two policemen, as well as their alleged “possession of a confidential document, all of which they made or assisted to make public via social-media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp”.

It accused them of the “appropriation” of Mr Corbishley’s image and “falsification and/or misrepresentation of his personality on social media, with the apparent intent to create salacious falsehoods …”

The letter said the officers were required to “compensate our client for the damage to his reputation, his mental distress and anxiety and for financial losses, including legal costs, incurred as a consequence of Mr Butterfield and [the other officer’s] actions”.

It warned: “Should the demands set out in this letter not be met or some other agreement acceptable to our client not be reached, our client may choose to issue proceedings against you without further notice.”

The correspondence was sent a month after the launch of a police investigation into how the court document, detailing aspects of Mr Corbishley’s private life, came to be circulated among members of the Bermuda Police Service.

The homes of Pc Butterfield and the other officer were searched, and phones and other electronic equipment were seized, last December as part of that inquiry.

A police spokesman said then: “A court warrant was executed at the homes of two police officers in relation to an ongoing investigation.

“Due to the sensitive nature of the investigation, no further information will be provided at this time.”

The spokesman confirmed last week that the criminal investigation is still under way.

He said two officers had been suspended on full pay in relation to the criminal inquiry and an internal professional standards matter.

“No further comment will be made, as there is an ongoing investigation regarding this situation,” added the spokesman.

The confidential court document is an affidavit prepared by Deborah Corbishley, the commissioner’s estranged wife, which was filed with the Supreme Court last year.

A copy of it was e-mailed to police officers in December.

The letter from Mr Corbishley’s lawyer accused Pc Butterfield and the other officer of “highly defamatory actions” in making statements “maliciously, without any concern for Mr Corbishley’s personal reputation …”

It claimed their “writings and actions have caused extreme prejudice to Mr Corbishley, which has resulted and will likely result in serious harm to his reputation and significant personal anxiety and distress.”

It warned them to preserve any information related to their actions, remove the social-media content, undertake not to publish further defamatory content and cease any other actions that could “slander or libel” the commissioner.

Mr Corbishley revealed in a Facebook post on December 2 last year that he been targeted online with “false and slanderous comments about my private life” by someone linked to the service.

The commissioner said police knew the real identity of the online profile “Naes”.

The legislation quoted in the warrant obtained to search the two officers’ homes was understood to have included Section 36 of the Police Act 1974, related to “causing disaffection” in the ranks.

A summary conviction for the crime can result in a $500 fine, a year’s imprisonment or both.

Conviction on indictment can lead to a $5,000 fine, five years in jail or both.

Pc Butterfield told The Royal Gazette that private and confidential information was taken from his mobile phone by police after his home was raided.

He alleged that the commissioner had obtained that information and taken it to a lawyer.

Pc Butterfield claimed: “There is one set of rules for lower-ranking officers and members of the public, but an entirely different set of rules for this commissioner, who operates with autonomy as if he can do no wrong and the rules do not apply to him.”

Mr Howard, the lawyer acting for Mr Corbishley, said the commissioner had no comment.

The other officer could not be reached.

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