By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
TEN people who protested against a blocked access point to Cabbage Beach two years ago will seek “substantial damages” from the government for being “maliciously prosecuted” in a case that saw 13 adjournments, multiple presiding magistrates and no appearance from the virtual complainant since the day it began.
The announcement came shortly after a magistrate discharged Urvan Moxey, Miguel Joseph, Derek Thompson, Lincoln Bain, Hubert McIntosh, Sam Butler, Trevor Lightbourne, Frances Johnson, Derek Cox and Jahro Saunders from the matter concerning the destruction of a fence blocking the entry of the Paradise Island beach in March 2016.
During a press conference at his law office after the group was discharged, attorney Branville McCartney told reporters the group will settle for “nothing less” than substantial damages from the government for the “abuse of process” they each endured from 2016 to yesterday; however, he said the amount of damages sought will vary due to the individual circumstances of each claimant.
Mr McCartney also said Essex Law Chambers, whose senior partner is Tall Pines MP Don Saunders, will be assisting with the suit of malicious prosecution against the government pending the instructions of the intended claimants. Mr Saunders was the other attorney on record for the matter.
Hours prior to his announcement, Mr McCartney, Mr Saunders and their clients were present at the Magistrate’s Court complex from 10am in anticipation of the commencement of their matter, which saw some 13 adjournments since they were initially arraigned on March 9, 2016.
Since that date to yesterday, the virtual complainant in the matter, Alexander Roberts, never showed up in court. And the actual trial, which commenced on February 28, 2017 – almost a full year after the initial arraignment – only saw testimony from one Crown witness, Superintendent Philip Hinzey, according to Mr McCartney.
Yesterday, when Magistrate Ambrose Ambrister instructed the police prosecutor to call his witnesses in connection with the matter – Supt Hinsey and Assistant Commissioner of Police Leamond Delevaux – and the officer did so, the court was subsequently informed there was no appearance by either officer.
The police prosecutor subsequently made an application to withdraw the charges against the former accused pursuant to Section 230 2(b)2 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). However, Mr McCartney subsequently rose and asked the magistrate to consider a complete discharge and acquittal of his clients, pursuant to Section 203.
Magistrate Ambrister ultimately opted to not acquit the group for legal reasons, but discharged them instead. He said while only two indictable charges against one or more in the group can be brought back against them, it is unlikely that will happen based on the fact the virtual complainant in the matter never showed up to court.
Magistrate Ambrister said the other offences, which are summary in nature, are barred by statute.
At a press conference after the “Cabbage Beach 10” were discharged, at his law office on Village Road, Mr McCartney said notwithstanding the group being discharged, they have all been “disadvantaged” due to what he maintained was a “malicious act by the prosecution”.
Mr McCartney said some of the former accused were never arrested, cautioned, or interviewed by police in connection with the matters they were previously charged with, and only found out what they were being charged with at the court hearing.
Mr McCartney also said Mr Moxey, who was initially arraigned on three counts each of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, and an additional count of damage, had a warrant issued for his arrest when he left the court complex due to the matter not starting on time.
When asked by The Tribune how much in damages the group will seek as a result, Mr McCartney said: “That will depend on the individual circumstances as well.
“But we will go for substantial damages. We won’t do it for nothing less, but it is something that the court would have recognised previously. So we’re not going to just throw a number out in the air and say this is what we’re claiming. Each and every individual will have to be interviewed and depending on their individual circumstances as well, a particular claim will be made in that regard.”
He added: “This matter started under the former administration, and it’s unfortunate, but governments are continuous. So when administrations or prosecutions are done, and they’re done maliciously, ultimately its the Bahamian people that will pay, and that’s not fair to the Bahamian people.”
Nonetheless, the “Cabbage Beach 10” said the entire ordeal has not deterred them in any way, and that they would protest the same way they did in 2016 if a similar situation arises.
“We have been vindicated,” Mr Bain said during the press conference. “And would we do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.”
Jahro Saunders, the youngest member of the group at 25, echoed Mr Bain’s sentiments, and warned the government that it will see more of the group should it try something of a similar nature in the future.
“This only the start of something big, trust me,” he said. “This Cabbage Beach 10 ain’t going nowhere. And if the government ever try any stunt like this again, you best believe y’all gone see the 10 of our faces again.
“I just want to tell the government they better watch they self,” he added. “This ain’t no more the people laying down and letting the government do whatever. This our land.”
In January, some of the men complained they had been abandoned by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, who pledged while in opposition that his administration, if elected, would expunge their records. Press Secretary Anthony Newbold later said Dr Minnis did not regret making the pledge, saying he still intended to “live up to the commitment” he made them.