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Bermuda blue: police commissioner’s three years in hot seat

Stephen Corbishley, the former Commissioner of Police. (File photograph)

The island’s top police officer quit his post last week with almost two years to run on his contract. The Royal Gazette takes a look at the tumultuous three year tenure of Stephen Corbishley, now the former Commissioner of Police.

Stephen Corbishley’s time as Commissioner of Police started with fireworks in 2018 as MPs from both parties blasted the Governor’s decision to hire a non-Bermudian.

In the little more than three years since, controversy continued to dog the British officer, who is understood to have now returned to the United Kingdom.

Mr Corbishley suddenly quit for unknown reasons at a time when – as far as the public knew – he was still the subject of a gross misconduct inquiry ordered by Rena Lalgie, the Governor.

The inquiry was sparked by complaints from suspended officer Pc Robert Butterfield (see separate story) – and Mr Butterfield was not the only police officer to have taken issue with Mr Corbishley.

There have been several civil cases brought against the Commissioner of Police in his professional capacity by serving officers since August 2018 – and some are still under way.

The court cases played out against the backdrop of Mr Corbishley’s bid to improve standards of conduct and root out corruption in the Bermuda Police Service, which has about 400 officers.

He recruited British officer Gillian Murray, then a Detective Superintendent, from the British Transport Police and the UK College of Policing, to head the professional standards department in October 2019.

Ms Murray has since returned to Britain.

Darrin Simons, now the acting Commissioner of Police, said a few months after her arrival that “some energy” was being put into getting rid of bad apples.

Mr Simons highlighted officers who were under investigation or who had been charged with criminal offences at the swearing-in ceremony when he became Deputy Commissioner.

He said: “It must be acknowledged that certainly in my career, I have never seen this level.”

But Mr Simons added that the “overwhelming, vast majority” of police officers “walk with integrity, do their job professionally, and value their work within the community”.

It was not possible to get up to date figures yesterday for the number of officers being investigated by the service’s professional standards department.

But the BPS revealed in September last year that 87 officers – more than 20 per cent of its strength – were under investigation.

A WhatsApp message that contained a series of allegations about Mr Corbishley’s professional and personal life was circulated the next month.

The commissioner blamed “a small minority of officers within the BPS who are aggrieved to being rightly addressed for their standards of unprofessional behaviour”.

Mr Corbishley, who earned almost $204K plus a $22,447 annual housing allowance, also had to try to persuade his officers to agree to an unpopular proposed 10 per cent pay cut.

He told them in August 2020 that a refusal to accept the cut would lead to a $4.5 million budget reduction and could spark a crime wave.

But reject it they did, with 51 per cent voting against.

The civil proceedings against the Commissioner included a long legal wrangle with former Pc Oswin Pereira, who was sacked in January 2020 for use of excessive force on a teenage suspect.

Mr Pereira lost his appeal against dismissal in July.

Mr Corbishley said afterwards it was “essential the public have trust and confidence in police officers and it is right that the BPS sought to defend the conduct panel’s original decision to dismiss Mr Pereira without notice”.

Another case saw an officer who contracted Covid-19 take legal action after the Commissioner sent an e-mail to inform colleagues about his test result.

The BPS disputed the man’s claims but agreed to an out-of-court settlement on the advice of the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Mr Corbishley tested positive for the coronavirus in November 2020 after a short period of overseas leave.

More than half of the 38 months he was in charge – 20 months – were while the global pandemic raged.

The commissioner took to social media – where he regularly posted video updates – to celebrate the service’s successes, including a murder rate of zero in 2019.

He said at the time that the year had been one of “tremendous work” by the BPS and the Government’s anti-gang task force in their efforts to cut the amount of serious violence, especially gun crime.

But at no point in his time in post did the service release its annual official statistics report.

A spokesman said yesterday: “The Bermuda Police Service can confirm that work is nearing completion on the BPS official statistics report for the years 2018 and 2019.”

He added the statistics would published on the police website and given to the media in the week starting next Monday.

The spokesman said: “There is some delay in producing the 2020 report as a result of the exigencies faced by the service due to competing demands and reduced staffing levels.

“Work on finalising those figures remains ongoing.”

He added: “With regard to the 2021 report, it would not be prudent to release any details at this point as those figures remain in a state of flux, given that the year has not yet ended.”

The gross misconduct inquiry into Mr Corbishley, conducted by Andrew Bermingham, a retired police Superintendent, started in March.

Ms Lalgie has yet to reveal if it had concluded.

A Government House spokeswoman said this week that it would “not be appropriate to make further comment at this stage”.