A soldier has emerged victorious following a decade long battle with the State over being wrongfully detained for a reported kidnapping investigation.
Delivering a written judgment yesterday, three Law Lords of the United Kingdom-based Privy Council ruled that the local High Court and Court of Appeal got it wrong when they successively rejected Lance Corporal Dorian Betaudier’s false imprisonment lawsuit.
According to the evidence in the case, Betaudier and a colleague were held by police while driving a Defence Force vehicle in San Juan on Christmas Eve in 2005.
Betaudier was found to be in possession of an envelope with $7,000 in cash, while his colleague had an illegal firearm and ammunition.
While his colleague was charged with possession of the firearm, he was detained as part of a kidnapping investigation before being released without charge on Boxing Day.
Betaudier filed the case in 2009 and three years later it was dismissed by the High Court Judge and current Appeal Court Judge Andre Des Vignes, who ruled that the police had reasonable and probable cause to suspect that he had committed an offence.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Betaudier’s appeal by majority decision, with Appellate Judge Allan Mendonca dissenting.
In the appeal, the Privy Council rejected claims by the State that it could not interfere in the case as both local courts had made concurrent findings of fact.
It stated that the officer, who arrested the duo, could not have reasonable suspicion that Betaudier was involving in kidnapping as the information, which led to their arrest, pertained to the transportation of illegal firearms and ammunition.
“The officer must have in mind facts which are capable of supporting a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed an offence of the particular kind, which the officer has in mind,” the court said.
It also rejected claims that the officer’s suspicion was based on a briefing he attended regarding a wider investigation into soldiers engaging in illegal activity, including kidnapping.
“The fact that the appellant was a soldier, one member of a very large group in T&T, gave no reason to suspect him of kidnapping, committed by soldiers,” it said.
The appeal panel also stated that although it would have been reasonable to detain Betaudier on suspicion of firearm offences based on the illegal weapon found on his colleague, the police maintained that he was held in relation to kidnapping.
It also noted that he was not questioned whether the large quantity of cash that was found on him was the proceeds of kidnapping.
“The possession of the money therefore remains insufficient for this purpose, even when considered in conjunction with other material,” it said.
Based on its finding that Betaudier’s arrest was unlawful, the panel ruled that his subsequent detention was also illegal.
Despite the ruling, the panel did not assess the compensation to be paid to Betaudier, instead remitting the issue for a High Court Judge to decide.
Betaudier was represented by Anand Beharrylal, QC, Joshua Hitchens, Sian McGibbon, Kenneth Thompson and Alvin Pariagsingh while Tom Poole represented the State.