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Police officer wins Pati victory

Police officer Robert Butterfield (File photograph)

A police officer seeking records about a raid on his home by fellow officers, as well as correspondence about him between the Commissioner of Police and the Governor, has won two decisions in his favour.

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez has ordered the Bermuda Police Service to disclose records requested by Pc Robert Butterfield or face enforcement action in the Supreme Court.

The police have until May 6 to release the e-mail correspondence and until May 8 to disclose the records concerning the raid.

Mr Butterfield, who gave permission for The Royal Gazette to identify him in this article as the public access to information requester, said yesterday that he had not yet received the records.

“One would have thought they would have released the records asap,” he added.

The homes of Mr Butterfield and Sergeant Mark Monk were searched in December 2020 as part of an investigation into a leaked document about the divorce of former police commissioner Stephen Corbishley.

Both officers were later told that they would not face charges in relation to the criminal inquiry and both sued the police for damages.

The BPS agreed last month to pay Mr Monk a $200,000 settlement, plus his legal fees, after admitting that the warrant to search his home was unlawful.

Mr Butterfield’s civil lawsuit continues.

In July last year, he asked the BPS for e-mails about him between the Commissioner of Police and the Governor during October 2021, the month that Mr Corbishley suddenly quit his post.

He specifically asked for all e-mails referencing him that were received by the commissioner’s official police e-mail from the Governor on October 6, 2021, and any reply, as well as any other e-mails between the two concerning him that were sent that month.

Mr Corbishley’s shock resignation, while he was under investigation for alleged gross misconduct in relation to complaints made by Mr Butterfield, was announced on October 1, 2021.

His deputy, Darrin Simons, immediately stepped up in an acting capacity as police commissioner, before officially taking on the top job the following March.

The BPS did not initially respond to Mr Butterfield’s request for the correspondence but, after he referred the matter to Ms Gutierrez, they issued a refusal last November.

The police officer appealed to the Information Commissioner and she issued her decision on March 25, finding that the BPS were right to withhold part of a record because it contained personal information.

However, she said the same justification either did not apply to other parts of the record or it was in the public interest to disclose those parts.

She wrote that in this case “disclosure of the names and some limited personal information of individuals holding senior positions within the BPS and Government House would promote accountability and transparency concerning the BPS’s decision-making processes.

“These individuals are decision-makers who are outwardly accountable to the public.”

Ms Gutierrez said the BPS shared one record with her that was responsive to Mr Butterfield’s request for correspondence: an e-mail from Mr Simons to the Governor, Rena Lalgie, on October 1, 2021, forwarding a message he had received from Mr Butterfield on August 29, 2021, and acknowledged on August 30, 2021, and the Governor’s October 4 response.

The record contained information about a third party, not named in Ms Gutierrez’s decision, who was asked, along with the BPS and Mr Butterfield, to comment on its potential disclosure.

According to the decision: “The third party objected to the disclosure of the record but did not request to receive a copy of the withheld record or further description of it prior to making submissions.

“They submitted that they were unaware of the communication and, furthermore, that disclosure of the fact of the communication as well as the details would cause a harm to their professional reputation.”

In November 2021, Mr Butterfield submitted a Pati request about the raid at his home the previous December.

He asked for a copy of all body camera footage taken by the officers who attended and a copy of the notes recorded at the time, but the BPS refused to provide the records, citing various exemptions in the Pati Act.

Mr Butterfield asked the Information Commissioner to review the decision.

He later withdrew the request for the body camera footage and Ms Gutierrez only considered whether the BPS were right to withhold the search notes.

She found no justification for them to be withheld, but said the names, signatures and identifying numbers of the police officers who attended the raid should be redacted as it was personal information.

A BPS spokesman said: “The Bermuda Police Service acknowledges the decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office as it pertains to the Pati requests mentioned.

“The BPS will abide by the orders issued by the ICO in relation to these matters.”

The Governor dropped the gross misconduct inquiry into Mr Corbishley, who denied any wrongdoing.

• See related media for the decisions.

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