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Detective accused in botched recordings inquiry

Lead officer: Detective Superintendent Nicholas Pedro (File photograph)

A senior detective has been accused of leading a “botched investigation” into a set of missing court recordings, which were ultimately uncovered during an inquiry by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

A formal complaint about Detective Superintendent Nicholas Pedro and his team, alleging gross incompetence, has been made to Stephen Corbishley, the Commissioner of Police, and is being investigated.

Litigants who were denied access to the recordings by court officials have filed the grievance, claiming that “the handling of the investigation into our complaint by Mr Pedro not only failed us as victims, but also failed on every other critical point”.

“We do not believe that a full and proper investigation was conducted to the highest of professional and ethical standards,” wrote the Civil Justice Advocacy Group to the commissioner.

“The behaviour of Mr Pedro and his team in their dealings with us during the investigation of our complaint added insult to injury and caused us a further five-year delay in getting to the truth of what happened to our court records.”

Darrin Simons, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, told The Royal Gazette yesterday: “I can confirm that the Civil Justice Advocacy Group has made a complaint to the Bermuda Police Service regarding the conduct of one of our officers.

“In line with police conduct procedures, the complaint has been recorded. I can also confirm that I met with the complainants on May 29 to discuss the matters raised and to reassure them that a full and transparent investigation will now take place.”

Mr Pedro, head of the BPS’s crime division, did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Members of CJAG joined forces after each was involved in separate civil proceedings dating back to 2011 before the Court of Appeal, the highest court that sits on the island.

Several, although not all, were representing themselves as “litigants in person”, and when they applied for recordings of their hearings, to assist with appeals they planned to make to the Privy Council, they were told by court officials they could not have them.

Various reasons were given, including that Court of Appeal president Sir Edward Zacca had ordered the Court Smart recording system to be turned off during session and that it was normal practice if recordings were made not to provide them to parties in a lawsuit.

The group made a criminal complaint at the end of 2013, alleging that court officials who refused to provide the recordings may have destroyed evidence, conspired to defeat justice, attempted to pervert the course of justice or destroyed or damaged public records.

Mr Pedro headed the investigation and wrote to CJAG in September 2014 to say “..audio recordings were ‘not withheld or destroyed’ because they did not exist in the first place” and no charges would be brought.

He said a “full and comprehensive investigation” was conducted and “statements were recorded from numerous persons, including those that were the subject of your complaint”.

Mr Pedro dismissed as “incorrect” evidence provided by CJAG which showed how the Judiciary itself claimed in an official document that it captured 100 per cent of cases with its court recording system.

But the recordings did exist and they were found after CJAG made a public access to information request for records which would support the 100 per cent claim.

The Judicial Department denied the Pati request, claiming such records did not exist, and CJAG asked the Information Commissioner’s Office to conduct a review.

Information commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez said in a decision on the case: “The Judicial Department conducted additional searches of the Court Smart System, which led to the identification of records ... The records included daily tests from the Court Smart System for the Court of Appeal sessions in 2011, as well as actual recordings of various proceedings.”

The group said in its letter to Mr Corbishley that ICO investigators interviewed Frank Vasquez, IT manager for Bermuda’s courts, just as detectives from BPS had done in 2014.

They said Mr Pedro told them that Mr Vasquez, a former police officer, showed detectives “all the logs and servers ... nothing existed”.

The group said it asked Mr Pedro to check the back-up server for the recordings but he told them that system had “also been turned off by Mr Vasquez”.

The ICO’s review uncovered logs of the court recordings, which clearly showed audio files of hearings involving CJAG members.

Some of the audio files found during the ICO review were on the court’s primary recording system and all were on the back-up system.

CJAG said in its letter to Mr Corbishley: “We stressed to Mr Pedro that he was being misled by the public officers whose word he seemed willing to accept at face value.”

It added: “This is just one example of the botched investigation headed up by Mr Pedro.”

The group also complained that officers failed to interview Sir Edward, even though he was on island during their inquiry and they knew that previous complaints had been made to the Governor about his conduct towards litigants in court.

The Royal Gazette approached Mr Vasquez for comment but was told the Judicial Department “is declining to comment on this matter”.

It was not possible to reach Sir Edward, who retired in 2014, for comment.

To read the complaint against Detective Superintendent Nicholas Pedro and view the court recordings logs, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”