“You are dismissed forthwith from the Barbados Defence Force!”
Those were the daunting words of military judge Major Christopher Birch this afternoon, when passing sentence on Timothy Bancroft, formerly of the military police, for escaping legal custody while under “close” arrest at the BDF St Ann’s Fort headquarters on November 28, 2013.
Twenty-four-year-old Bancroft, who was on trial before a five-man court martial panel over the past three days, had initially been charged with three offences –– stealing a colleague’s camouflage uniform, escaping legal custody and disobeying the force’s standing orders.
Yesterday, he changed his not guilty pleas on all counts, to guilty of escaping custody and disobeying standing orders.
Those standing orders were breached when he made good his escape by catching a ZR van at a place other than a bus stop, contrary to BDF regulations.
After hearing all the evidence from the eight witnesses and closing arguments from prosecutor Captain Sandra Blackman and defence counsel Rita Evans, tribunal president Major Birch ruled today that Bancroft was guilty of stealing the camouflage uniform owned by Private Jamaar Mottley.
On the charge of disobeying orders, the accused was severely reprimanded, and for theft he was fined 56 days’ pay.
But before handing down his ruling, the presiding judge told Bancroft that from the evidence he had made some “very, very bad” judgements.
He lamented that for a soldier of his experience [five years’ service], it was not fitting that Bancroft should have conducted himself in a manner that resulted in the case before the court.
The judge also suggested that for a soldier who was attached to the BDF’s enforcement unit, it was regrettable he should find himself in this predicament.
“It is particularly disturbing that you could be seen escaping . . . . The one matter that bothered me was the escaping from custody. No matter what the motivation you felt . . . once you were in custody, there you should remain,” the military judicial officer declared.
“I hope you will be the last man or woman to be convicted of such an offence,” he added.
The tribunal head noted too the evidence showing that Bancroft –– and other soldiers –– were in the habit of borrowing each other’s uniforms and that Bancroft was also accustomed borrowing the keys to the car in which the missing camouflage suit was discovered [and which he was driving].
Judge Birch reasoned that soldiers were expected to be each other’s brother and even kill for each other, but not victims of one another.
Earlier in her mitigation, defence counsel Evans begged the court not to jail her client, considering he had a three-year-old daughter and a diabetic mother, for both of whom he was the primary provider.
She instead suggested that the court discharge him immediately, on the more serious charge of escaping, rather than have taxpayers support him, especially in these hard economic times.
Evans also told the tribunal that Bancroft was a “squeaky clean” soldier, had it not been for this incident.
During the earlier sitting of the trial today, the prosecution proved that Bancroft had a case to answer on the stealing charge, when the panel rejected a defence application on a “no case” submission.
Five days ago, Bancroft would have celebrated his fifth year in the Barbados Defence Force.