A dramatic twist in the court martial trial today of a Barbados Defence Force soldier.
Well into the hearing where Private Timothy Bancroft was facing three charges –– stealing one of his colleague’s camouflage uniforms, escaping custody and disobeying standing orders –– the accused changed his original not guilty pleas on all counts, to guilty on two.
Bancroft admitted before the five-man tribunal to escaping custody and catching a ZR van outside the BDF headquarters at a place other than a bus stop, in contravention of the force’s standing orders.
The turn of events happened immediately after a brief recess in the trial, when Bancroft’s attorney Sub Lieutenant Rita Evans stood and asked the presiding judge Major Christopher Birch to read out the charges again to her client.
Evans explained that after hearing the one-and-a-half-hour testimony this morning of the arresting officer Corporal Junior Murray, she had instructed her client to change the two not guilty pleas to guilty.
However, Major Birch informed the accused that even though he had now pleaded guilty to escaping custody and disobeying orders, the case would continue without prejudice to the other charge of stealing.
He announced that the not guilty matters would only be dealt with, once hearing on the stealing charge was completed. Under extensive cross examination by the defence attorney just before the brief recess, Murray testified that he not only recorded the arrest of Bancroft in the official book but he also verbally informed Bancroft that he was arresting him initially on a charge of conduct, until he was able to clarify ownership of the car Bancroft was driving on November 28, 2013, in which the missing camouflage suit was found in the trunk.
The witness also gave evidence that, before leaving the BDF base, he had turned over the accused to the custody of Sergeant Malcolm Oughterson, of the military police, who had investigated the report of the missing camouflage suit.
Murray told the court, too, he was the soldier who subsequently retrieved Bancroft from “a place other than where he had left him” in the guard room at headquarters.
The tribunal has already heard that the accused was removed from a Transport Board bus going to Josey Hill, St Lucy.
Under further cross examination, Murray admitted that he did not know who inserted the words “stealing property” in the “close arrest book”, following his initial entry of “conduct”.
The witness said his “conduct” charge related to the fact that the missing comouflage uniform was discovered in the trunk of the car he was driving, pending receipt of information of the exact charges.
It was this evidence, which motivated defence counsel Evans to instruct her client to change his not guilty pleas.
Also testifying today was barracks policeman Andrew Legall, who owned the vehicle that was driven by the accused on the day in question.
Legall said Bancroft and he were friends then and it was normal for him to lend his car to the accused and for them to borrow each other’s camouflage uniforms. He denied, though, placing anything in the trunk of his vehicle that day that did not belong to him, neither did he see the accused remove any clothing from the line at BDF headquarters.
All seven witnesses so far have denied seeing the accused taking any clothing from the line in the barracks on November 28, 2013.
The trial continues tomorrow at 9 a.m.