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Governor dodges questions on protest report

John Rankin, the Governor (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Governor sidestepped questions yesterday on a report into a demonstration three years ago when police used pepper spray on protesters outside the House of Assembly.

John Rankin said he had “carefully” read the report into the incident by a parliamentary joint select committee, which was tabled last Friday.

He added: “I hope that all can work together in considering thoughtfully and constructively the contents of the report.”

However, Mr Rankin declined to comment further on the report or on a rebuttal by Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley of the JSC’s finding that officers were ordered to use Captor spray on the protesters, who blockaded the entrance to the House of Assembly on December 2, 2016 in a protest over the public private partnership deal to build a new airport.

Mr Rankin said: “This was a sad day for Bermuda on which no one won.

“There were lessons to be learnt from all sides on what occurred.”

He added that many of the committee’s recommendations followed those made in a 2017 review carried out by a senior police officer from the UK National Police Co-ordination Centre at the Governor’s request.

Mr Rankin said: “I am pleased that these recommendations were fully accepted by the Bermuda Police Service and continue to be implemented and followed by the Commissioner of Police.

“I also continue to welcome the clear findings made by Bermuda’s independent Police Complaints Authority in August 2017 in response to complaints received.”

Protesters were pepper- sprayed as police mounted an unsuccessful bid to clear the gates. Several officers were also injured in the clash.

The JSC held about 40 meetings behind closed doors and the report criticised the Police Complaints Authority’s investigation.

The JSC report contradicted the PCA’s view that officers had acted on their own initiative when they used pepper spray.

The JSC said that a video recording from a police body camera had captured an unidentified officer telling colleagues to use pepper spray.

But Mr Corbishley contradicted the JSC’s finding this week and insisted the committee was wrong to have interpreted the officers’ words as an order.

Mr Corbishley said there was “no evidence that a senior command order was made to action this use of force”.

The commissioner also denied that the gold commander at the incident had failed to answer a summons to appear in front of the JSC.

He said the commander complied with the summons to appear but was not permitted to bring representation, which “conflicted with the due process”.

Mr Corbishley said that the officer had also given written responses to written questions from the JSC.