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‘Strong public interest in greater transparency’ over resignation of former police commissioner

Former Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

There is a “strong public interest in greater transparency” about the abrupt resignation and conduct of former police chief Stephen Corbishley, according to the Information Commissioner.

Gitanjali Gutierrez wrote in a recent public access to information decision that the public remained in the dark about the reasons for Mr Corbishley’s sudden departure in October 2021, when allegations of gross misconduct against him were being investigated.

However, the Information Commissioner said the strong public interest was not enough to compel Government House to release records about his resignation, which contained personal information.

Ms Gutierrez said: “Although the role of Commissioner of Police inherently carries a lower expectation of privacy by nature of its official publicly facing duties, the decision to resign remains a highly personal matter specific to an individual.

“Persons, even in those high-ranking positions, continue to hold a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning their private lives.”

She added that disclosure of two relevant documents “ … would be unfair to the former Commissioner of Police, nor necessary to further public interest concerns …”.

Mr Corbishley was appointed to lead the Bermuda Police Service by the Governor in 2018. He resigned after little more than three years in the top job, with almost two years left to run on his contract.

He told the TNN website that he quit because of “family issues [which] were more important than professional” and because he wanted a change after taking the BPS “forward a great deal”.

At the time, an inquiry into claims of gross misconduct made against him by police constable Robert Butterfield was continuing. The inquiry was dropped by Rena Lalgie, the Governor, after he handed in his notice.

The Royal Gazette made a Pati request for all correspondence and communications between Mr Corbishley and the Governor, the Deputy Governor, or any other Government House employee between September 1 and October 31, 2021.

Former Deputy Governor Alison Crocket disclosed a few records unrelated to the resignation, but refused to disclose other documents because they contained personal information.

Ms Lalgie reviewed that decision and upheld the refusal, stating that the “ … statutory protections afforded to personal information and the overwhelming public interest in protecting personal information outweigh the public interest considerations in favour of public disclosure of the withheld records”.

The Information Commissioner was asked by the Gazette to review the decision and she came to the same conclusion in a decision published last month.

Ms Gutierrez said Mr Corbishley was invited to make representations and he explained why he objected to disclosure.

The Information Commissioner wrote that she was unable to summarise that submission due to the “confidential and sensitive nature of the information provided by the third party”.

She wrote in her decision: “The Information Commissioner acknowledges that the public has a strong interest in better understanding the reasons for the resignation of the former Commissioner of Police, the most senior individual within the police service.

“The announcement of the resignation was both abrupt and prior to the end of the former commissioner’s employment contract.

“The events prior to his resignation also raised questions about the former police commissioner’s conduct and accountability.”

Ms Gutierrez noted that the Governor dropped the gross misconduct inquiry, adding: “To date, the public has not been provided with the circumstances or reasons for the former Commissioner of Police’s resignation, including whether it was related to or arose from the pending inquiry launched by the Governor.

“In light of the history above, the Information Commissioner cannot ignore the strong public interest in greater transparency surrounding the resignation, and the conduct of the former Commissioner of Police.“

She said Government House provided her office with records that were responsive to the Pati request but she concluded that their disclosure "would not satisfy the weighty public interests of accountability and transparency“.

She added: “Government House has already provided official statements concerning the facts of the resignation and has explained that the resignation resulted in the Governor dropping the inquiry.

‘As unsatisfying as this outcome may be for some members of the public, the decision by the Governor by no means justifies an intrusion into the dignity and privacy of an individual who has made a personal choice to resign.

“The former Commissioner of Police’s submissions in this regard are acknowledged and the Information Commissioner agrees that disclosure is unwarranted.”

The Information Commissioner earlier upheld a decision by Government House to refuse a Pati request from the Gazette for any employment settlement agreement made with the former Commissioner of Police.

Ms Gutierrez said that record was created by the Attorney-General’s Chambers so did not fall under the Pati Act.

She is still reviewing Government House’s refusal to release a report produced by former police officer Andrew Bermingham into the gross misconduct claims against Mr Corbishley.

It was not possible to reach the former police commissioner for comment.

A Government House spokeswoman said: “We have no further comment to make on the Information Commissioner’s decision that Government House was justified in its decision not to disclose the requested records.”