THE London-based Privy Council has upheld a dissenting decision of the Court of Appeal in a false imprisonment case brought by a soldier who was stopped by police in San Juan in 2005, on suspicion of being involved in kidnapping.
In a ruling delivered on Monday, Lords Lloyd-Jones, Hamblen and Leggatt held that Lance Corporal Dorian Betaudier was entitled to compensation for false imprisonment for two days – December 24-26, 2005.
He was represented by attorneys Anand Beharrylal, QC, Joshua Hitchens, Sian McGibbon, Kenneth Thompson and Alvin Pariagsingh at the Privy Council.
They allowed his appeal and sent the matter back to the High Court to assess the quantum of compensation he should get. Betaudier, now retired, had been arrested along with another soldier after being stopped by police on Concorde Road, San Juan.
When searched, he had his licensed service firearm, $7,000 cash found in an envelope and $478 in his wallet. The other soldier was allegedly found in possession of an unlicensed firearm. The two soldiers, who were in uniform, were taken to the CID office in Port of Spain and interviewed.
One of the officers who arrested Betaudier went to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit, handed over the envelope with the money and said he suspected it was part of the proceeds of a ransom.
The officer’s evidence at the trial was that before the arrest, he was briefed, at least twice, by officers of the Criminal Investigations Unit, who told him that army officers were allegedly involved in a kidnapping ring.
On Christmas Day, Betaudier was questioned and he denied knowing of a kidnapping. On the evening of December 26, then acting ACP David Nedd reviewed the interview notes and concluded there was no reason for Betaudier’s further detention. At about 9.10 pm that night, he was released from police custody.
Almost four years to the date of his arrest, Betaudier filed a claim for compensation for false imprisonment.
In 2012, Justice Andre des Vignes dismissed the claim, finding the police had reasonable and probable cause to arrest Betaudier and the period of detention was justified.
Betaudier appealed and in 2017, the Court of Appeal gave a majority ruling, dismissing it. Justice Allan Mendonca dissented on the ground advanced by Betaudier that there was no reasonable grounds for suspecting he had committed an arrestable offence.
In their ruling, delivered by Lord Lloyd-Jones, the judges said they did not normally disturb concurrent findings of fact reached in the courts below, there was one particular aspect that needed to be addressed as it related to the police officer’s state of mind when he suspected Betaudier to be involved in kidnapping.
Lloyd-Jones held that the difficulty in the case was that, while the information the police officer received at the briefings provided a basis for suspicion that kidnappings were being committed by soldiers, it provided no basis for suspicion that Betaudier had committed an offence of kidnapping.
“The fact that the appellant was a soldier, one member of a very large group in TT, gave no reason to suspect him of kidnapping committed by soldiers.
“…The TTDF is made up of thousands of active personnel including reserve personnel.”
In their majority decision, Justices of Appeal Peter Rajkumar and Gregory Smith agreed that the mere finding of the money would not be enough to establish a link between Betaudier and any alleged kidnapping ring, even if he was a soldier. But, they held when the other factors were considered – the briefing the arresting officer received; the number of high-profile kidnappings, allegedly involving soldiers, at the time; and the finding of an unlicensed firearm on the other soldier – amounted to reasonable cause.
“The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that it is accepted that the possession of the money alone is insufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of the appellant’s involvement in kidnapping. There was no other information relied upon capable of linking the appellant to the commission of an offence of kidnapping. The possession of the money therefore remains insufficient for this purpose, even when considered in conjunction with the other material,” the Privy Council ruled.
In his dissenting ruling, Mendonca pointed out there was no information to suspect Betaudier of being involved in any kidnapping or that a ransom had been paid. Mendonca had said, “There must be something more and that something is missing from this case.”
In their ruling, the Privy Council judges held that the police had no reasonable grounds to arrest Betaudier and his arrest was unlawful.
“If the arrest of the appellant was unlawful, it follows that his detention following the arrest was unlawful. The appellant is accordingly entitled to damages for false imprisonment in respect of the period between his arrest on December 24, 2005, at 11.30 am and his release on December 26, 2005, at 9.10 pm.”
The State was represented by attorney Tom Poole at the Privy Council.