Journalists, like members of the general public, can at times because of the circumstances of an event, miss the real critical news behind the news.
This is not a condemnation of journalists, but a mere reflection of the fact that events of a particular day may guide news values in a particular direction.
Starting over the past weekend there was one such occasion. It all began when reporters and photographers from the various media houses converged on the Jackson/Warrens area where several dozen lawmen gathered in a most unusual show of force — and expertise.
Not long after, police reported they were holding Winfield Nurse, 68, in connection with the disappearance of his grand daughter, Rasheida Bascombe, 12 years old at the time, 11 years earlier. Yesterday, Nurse was charged with incest and murder.
Eleven years ago when Rasheida disappeared the incident remained in the headline for several days, so it was only natural that this turn of events would grab media attention again. We applaud the police on the breakthrough, but take very careful note of something the cops said — almost in passing.
In outlining the police resources deployed on this case, which reads like something from the annals of Hollywood’s best murder mysteries, the police intimated that the suspect had failed a polygraph — lie detector — test.
Now wait one minute! Since when has the Royal Barbados Police Force been using this technology in criminal investigations? Who administers its operation? Is the legal fraternity aware of this? What do our lawyers have to say about the development? In what kinds of cases is the technology pressed into use?
There is no doubt that the polygraph has been one of the most useful pieces of equipment used by law enforcement elsewhere for decades, but it is also one of the most questioned pieces of technology as well. So much so that its results are not admitted into evidence in trials.
So in a place like Barbados where even the most hardened and vile of criminals seem miraculously to have this natural urge to confess whenever they are held by police; and where those who don’t treat police interrogation rooms like Catholic Church confessionals invariably end up complaining of the strong scent of insecticide at police stations before they sign confession statements, the move to polygraph testing ought not to come from some by-the-way announcement.
We don’t get the impression that it is routine for police to read Barbadians any statement of “right to an attorney” when they are taken into custody; and quite frankly, too many people — particularly those who have no history of dealing with the police — take a lot for granted when they are interacting with police.
Just look at the operation of our magistrate court system and see how many young people can travel halfway, and at times all the way, through the criminal justice system without once having had the benefit of an attorney’s representation.
As far as we are concerned the introduction of polygraph testing is too fundamental a move for there not to be some announcement by no less an office than that of the Attorney General, with clear indications of the rules that will govern its use.
Some may be offended by our stance, but we have seen too many instances over the years of presiding officers in our courts making statements and acting in a manner that leaves one to wonder if they see themselves as impartial or extensions of the prosecution. The safeguards should therefore start before the accused reaches the court.
Again, we make it clear that we believe there is merit in the use of the technology and with the right guarantees and rules in place it should be at the disposal of the police. But we also hold the view that if the system is impartial the technology should also be at the disposal of a defence lawyer as well — where he or she initiates the process.
While Winfield Nurse is at this stage nothing more than an accused man, is innocent until a jury of his peers says otherwise, and should be regarded by the public as such, we expect that this development would have brought one huge sigh of relief to Rasheida’s parents and wider family.
We also do not seek to lessen the work of Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Mark Thompson who led this case. He is a crime investigator who has earned his stripes with hard work and results that stand up in court, and when it comes to his standing in the police force he can be regarded as nothing less than an officer and a gentlemen. No doubt those who work under him are held to the same high standards to which he subjects himself — but our concerns in relation to the use of polygraph technology speaks to a bigger issue.
We sincerely hope that Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin and Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite get it!