By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE MAN who was granted the “gift” of a nolle prosequi by then-acting Attorney General Jerome Fitzgerald had been suspected of smuggling guns into the country, Senator Desmond Bannister revealed yesterday.
Shortly after a statement by Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell on the grave threat gun smuggling poses to the country today – in which he showed several slides of automatic weapons now available to criminals – Mr Bannister revealed that George Hayles was suspected by police of using wrecked cars to bring in illegal firearms when the charges against him were suddenly dropped.
Mr Hayles was represented by the law firm of Allyson Maynard-Gibson at some point before she took office as Attorney General, however she was out of the country when the nolle prosequi (no prosecution) was entered.
So was her deputy, MP Damian Gomez, meaning Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald was acting attorney general and empowered to make the decision, which he again defended last week. However, he refused to give details, stressing that according to the Constitution, no entity has the power to question the decision.
In the Senate yesterday, Mr Bannister said he is certain the case would not have been dropped had Mrs Maynard-Gibson been in office at the time.
He said: “We know all too well the manner in which criminals have used wrecked cars to bring illegal firearms into The Bahamas. However, where we have a problem is that when the police do their hard work in detecting this larger number of firearms being imported through wrecked cars, having the criminal justice system cheated by issuing a nolle prosequi to persons who the police charge with this very activity.”
He said: “I know that the infamous nolle prosequi was issued during the absence from office of the Honourable Attorney General; and I’m confident that had she been in office there is no way that she would have issued a nolle prosequi to someone who the police alleged used wrecked cars in order to bring illegal firearms into the Bahamas, even if he is alleged to have been a client of her firm.”
Mr Bannister added that he was confident the attorney general was aware of the impact the case’s dismissal would have on the morale of the police force.
Janice Hayles and George Hayles each faced a charge of possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition.
It was claimed that on February 3, 2010 the two were found in possession of a .380 pistol and 19 live rounds of ammunition for the weapon.
The accused pleaded not guilty to the charges at their arraignment days after their arrest in 2010.
The nolle prosequi was initially rejected by the deputy chief magistrate because the document was not dated and it was not clear who had signed it.
However once rectified, the case was discontinued on December 28.
At that time, Deputy Chief Magistrate Carolita Bethell advised the couple that the matter could be brought back at any time the Attorney General wished as the pair were not acquitted, only discharged.
In the following months, the Free National Movement made repeated calls for the government to clarify why officials ordered the gun and ammunition charges to be dropped.
Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis criticised Prime Minister Perry Christie for failing to allow the FNM its own independent review of a dropped fire arms possession case.
Yesterday, Mr Bannister said: “Mr Hayles is very lucky that the real Attorney General was on leave when he got his gift nolle prosequi after the police had done an exemplary job investigating the case; the police prosecutors had already called all of their witnesses and closed their case; and the defence had completed their closing argument.
He added: “I guess someone did not trust the Magistrate to deliver the decision that they wanted.”