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Governor requests review of pepper-spraying

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Michael Scott, shadow attorney-general (File photograph)

The Governor is arranging for a senior UK police officer to conduct an independent review of the police response to the December 2 protest.

John Rankin added that the officer would also make recommendations wherever improvements could be made, including any future resource or training needs.

“I have agreed with the Commissioner of Police and following consultation with the Premier that, in line with best practice, the police response to the protests should be independently reviewed by a peer organisation,” Mr Rankin said in a statement this evening.

“I am making arrangements to have a senior UK police officer conduct such a review and make recommendations wherever improvements could be made, including as appropriate on any future resource or training needs.”

It comes after Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott today demanded a judicial public inquiry into the December 2 protest, accusing Michael Dunkley of failing to set any “parameters” when he requested an investigation into what happened that day.

Mr Scott told a press conference: “The events of December 2, 2016 tore at Bermuda’s national fabric and left all right-thinking people alarmed and outraged.

“Whilst Premier Michael Dunkley has requested an investigation, he has not indicated any parameters for such. With harm caused to otherwise innocent peaceful citizens exercising their constitutional right of protest, and the decision makers most closely connected with the events being at the very top of Government, the importance of a judicial public inquiry is highlighted. “It is only the judicial branch [of government] that is free of conflict to appropriately examine the incident.”

Shadow national security minister Water Roban added it was “imperative that a thorough and transparent examination take place to restore vital confidence in the Government and the police”. He told the press conference the Premier had failed to commit to an independent inquiry.

Police were criticised after officers wearing riot helmets used pepper spray on a crowd of protesters blocking MPs from entering the House of Assembly. The demonstrators’ aim was to prevent debate of legislation concerning the $250 million redevelopment of the airport.

Mr Dunkley said on December 4 he had asked the Governor and the Bermuda Police Service for an investigation into the events to be conducted and a report prepared for the Government on “what happened and why”.

On December 7, Mr Rankin said the Commissioner and Acting Commissioner of Police had assured him they were “conducting investigations” into what took place.

Mr Rankin said: “There is an investigation under way into assaults on police officers where files are being prepared for charges to be brought. At the same time, there is an investigation under way into complaints brought against police officers and these will be referred to the Police Complaints Authority.”

In his statement today, Mr Rankin reiterated that there are two investigations being conducted in respect of the protests.

The independent PCA has so far been forwarded 26 complaints in connection with the protest. Chairman Jeffrey Elkinson told this newspaper last month that the authority would meet to decide whether to look at the “bigger picture” regarding December 2, as well as investigating the 26 individual complaints.

Mr Scott said today he had made a public access to information request on December 30 regarding the protest, though he didn’t share details of which records he had requested. This newspaper submitted one on December 6, asking for:

• records showing how and when the decision was taken to deploy police in riot helmets to the grounds of Sessions House and by whom the decision was taken;

• any correspondence between the BPS and any individual outside the BPS regarding the decision to deploy those officers, prior to the decision being enacted; and

• any correspondence dated December 2, 2016 between the BPS and the Speaker of the House, Randy Horton.

“The Pati Act requires a response within six weeks,” said Mr Scott. “However, I urge the Government to act on this request for an inquiry without delay, as the public shouldn’t have to rely on individual requests for this information.

“The importance of revealing the political and tactical considerations of this event can’t be diminished. Furthermore, critical to the inquiry will [be] the victims and the public having the opportunity to be heard. Judges are very experienced at determining facts.”

He said the Progressive Labour Party was calling for any inquiry to result in recommendations for change, with those recommendations acted upon within 12 months.

“It is felt that only with effective follow-up can the inquiry avoid becoming just the delivery of eloquent words, but rather result in lessons learnt,” added the Opposition MP.

Mr Roban said: “The public deserves an independent investigation and so, quite frankly, do the police. Canisters of pepper spray are prohibited weapons under the Firearms Act, 1973 — for which the police receive an exemption. The possession and discharge of them can lead an ordinary citizen to a period of imprisonment, such is the gravity of their use.

“There is precedence in Bermuda for a public and independent investigation when the discharge of a firearm by the Bermuda Police Service has occurred.”

He added: “We urge the Governor, who has constitutional responsibilities for police operations, to ensure that a public, independent investigation be done. The public needs to be assured that protocols and policies, designed to ensure police and public safety, were complied with.”

Fourteen police officers were allegedly assaulted during the December 2 protest, according to the BPS.