By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Supreme Court awarded $30,000 in damages to a woman after police erroneously reported that she was an armed robbery suspect and circulated wanted posters of her in 2010.
On March 23, 2010, Nautrell Kemp went to the Central Detective Unit (CDU) to make a housebreaking complaint.
Not long after, police issued a wanted bulletin of her, which was published in The Punch and other media, claiming she was armed and dangerous. Ms Kemp complained to top officials about the matter.
Former Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Leon Bethel and ACP Clayton Fernander then apologised to her in person.
A retraction and apology were also broadcasted on ZNS, with Senior ACP Stephen Dean, then a superintendent, apologising for the “inconvenience and the distress that have been caused by the publication.”
“It was an honest mistake by our officers and we wish to rectify that and we wish to publicly say that she is not wanted by us for any outstanding matters,” Senior ACP Dean had said earlier.
However, no retraction was published in The Punch.
Ms Kemp took legal action.
Last week, the Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court Camille Darville Gomez ruled that the government’s approach to the matter and the defence it offered rendered the prior apology disingenuous.
Attorneys for the government did not admit guilt and moved to assess damages when they filed their arguments in the case.
Accordingly, opportunities to discount the amount of damages awarded to Ms Kemp were lost because Mrs Gomez found that the effect of the original apology was diluted by the government’s defence.
Mrs Gomez noted in her judgment: “…Defendants sought to defend the action by way of defence which was filed on February 7, 2011 and therein they adopted the defence of qualified privilege and fair comment and they brought up the fact that the plaintiff was charged with the offences of grievous harm in 2007 and causing harm in 2009.
“It is also noteworthy to mention that nowhere in its defence did the defendants acknowledge that an apology was made to the plaintiff on behalf of the defendants. It is our submission that in this regard the defendants subsequent conduct in its drafting and filing of the said defence diluted whatever apology was offered on an earlier occasion.”
Mrs Gomez also considered that the apology was not published as widely as the defamatory bulletin because it was not included in The Punch, which she said “arguably has a wider circulation and audience than the apology which was effected by the defendants on national television.”
Attorneys for the government had also argued that Ms Kemp’s “general bad reputation” should mitigate an award of damages to her.
However, Mrs Gomez said no evidence proving Ms Kemp to be of “bad character” was presented.
“Therefore, the court will assume her to be of good character,” Mrs Gomez said.
Ms Kemp had alleged that she suffered financially because of the wanted poster.
She said she was refused work at the Atlantis resort because of this.
However, Mrs Gomez found that while Ms Kemp was entitled to compensation because of the personal and social injury she suffered, the alleged financial impact on her life was negligible.
Ms Kemp was represented by attorney Christina Galanos in the matter.