American urges people with land grab evidence to join forces for class action lawsuit
An American who claims an island off Southampton may have been misappropriated from her family a century ago is calling on others with evidence of “land grabs” to join forces for a class-action lawsuit.
Helen Muise said affected families should consider taking legal action against local law firms involved in conveyances where there were question marks about the title deeds and true ownership.
“I would like to get the residents of Bermuda together to get a class-action lawsuit started because nobody is really doing anything,” she said.
“They are listening now, which is great, but now is the time for action.”
Ms Muise, from Wyoming, only began researching her family’s Bermuda property history this summer, so missed the opportunity to have the matter reviewed by the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses, whose report was tabled in Parliament by the Premier on December 10.
She said she hoped the commission would resume to look at more cases, although there is no suggestion that this will happen.
And she questioned why the panel was unable to find Bermuda wills, which she said could be easily located on familysearch.org, a free genealogical website run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I find it very odd,” she said.
The call for a class-action lawsuit is being backed by two Bermudians who wanted to testify before the commission and claim they were barred from doing so.
Raymond Davis, also known as Khalid Wasi, and Myron Piper called for a judicial review into the commission last year, claiming it was a sham and that the commissioners had conflicts of interest.
The Royal Gazette revealed that the judicial review never went ahead because no judge could be found who was not conflicted.
Mr Davis is now calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to be set up with commissioners appointed from overseas.
Mr Davis said that he and others would support a class action.
Ms Muise told The Royal Gazette she had long been aware of a story told by her late uncle, Ben Nunn, about how the family lost Perot Island and other properties in Bermuda.
In August, she finally found the time to look through old files that had been left to the family by her uncle.
“The property was willed to my great-great-grandfather, Ormond Leigh Dickinson, by his uncle, Joseph Catlin Dickinson, to be dispersed,” said Ms Muise.
“In 1917, there was a sale ad for Perot Island. I think they tried to sell the island but because there was not a deed, they weren’t able to.”
Ms Muise said her research led her to believe the original deed was lost on a shipwreck.
The trail goes cold after 1917 and the next record she could find was from 1928, when Claudia Darrell, the parish registrar for Southampton, claimed to own the land via deed and tried to sell it.
Conveyance records from 1937 show the land divided between three owners – Claudia Darrell, parliamentarian Henry Thompson North – who is named in the COI report in relation to another matter – and Thornton Wallace Orr, who built a mansion there.
Ms Muise alleged that Ms Darrell, who died in 1949, forged a title deed.
She said attempts were made to change the name of Perot Island – her great-great- great uncle had bought it from the Perot family – to Crumb Brush Island or Tibby’s Island.
She said it has since changed ownership several times.
Ms Muise said her late uncle Ben Nunn, who was born in Bermuda in the 1950s, made inquiries about the sale of the property in the 1980s but was given short shrift by the Bank of Bermuda.
Now she is unsure how to confirm her belief that the island was misappropriated from her ancestors.
“I have contacted many lawyers over there [in Bermuda],” she said.
“None of them will respond to my e-mails. I have contacted whereismyland.org, I have contacted the FBI.”
Anyone who believes thay have lost land and wishes to contact Ms Muise can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The commission was established in October 2019 “to inquire into historic losses of citizens’ property in Bermuda”.
It was beset by a number of controversies after its first public hearings got under way in September, 2020.
In October 2020, Ivan Whitehall, the commission’s senior counsel, stepped down for “personal reasons” and was replaced by Dirk Harrison.
A month later, two COI investigators wrote to the commissioners expressing concerns over “the integrity of the commission’s proceedings”, including the protection of witnesses and alleged conflicts of interest among commissioners. When the contracts of the two investigators expired shortly after, they were not renewed.
In November 2020 police launched an inquiry after one investigator claimed that documents and personal papers were removed from her desk.
In January 2021, the commission was branded a sham by two witnesses who claimed they were barred from giving evidence at the hearing.
The pair filed an affidavit calling for an injunction and a judicial review, claiming that the commissioners were conflicted because they had close links to the institutions under investigation.
But their reasons for wanting a judicial review were never heard – because all commercial judges on the island were conflicted.
In its final report, which was presented to the House of Assembly earlier this month, the commissioners wrote: “The COI acknowledges that it received some claims that were refused because they did not fit into the COI’s mandate.
“Regrettably, because their claims were refused, some claimants and some persons who were engaged by the COI publicly criticised the Inquiry, questioning the integrity of the process and the partiality of certain commissioners.
“As a creature of statute and a quasi-judicial body, the COI practised the required judicial restraint and did not engage in public debate when criticised.”