The recent death of detective Station Sergeant Clifford Bridgeman in a vehicular accident is a tragedy that has touched the Barbadian citizenry. His unfortunate demise, no doubt, will be felt most by his family, friends and work colleagues who knew him intimately and shared many treasured moments with him. From all reports he was an officer of the highest repute and a gentleman of excellent acumen.
Mr Bridgeman was the 14th fatality for the year, with each death unquestionably occasioning much anguish to the kin and other loved ones of the deceased. In some of these cases it appears that the accidental deaths were due to the culpability of a second party. In others, where only the vehicle of the departed was involved, it appears that the accident was due to the personal error or circumstance of the deceased driver.
We have noted that the practice by the Royal Barbados Police Force in providing information to the general public on these fatal accidents has been to give basic information without going into too much details that could lead to the forming of opinions on culpability. It is a sound practice with its genesis in their professional training and the knowledge that where death occurs in an accident and the possibility of someone being held accountable in a court of law, that individual may be subject to a hearing and decision-making before his or her peers.
Often where persons are brought before the law courts when death has been caused as a result of a second party, charges such as motor manslaughter and others are heard before a judge and jury. It is therefore critical that persons in authority do not provide information to the public that could lead potential jurors to form opinions before sitting in judgment over any accused.
Of course, this is not to suggest that damning information cannot reach the public via some other source – inclusive of the media. But those in authority have a responsibility to ensure that whenever justice is meted out, there must not be the slightest hint of taint. As highlighted in the case of R v Sussex Justices, Ex Parte McCarthy (1924), “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”
We observed that in providing information on the accident that caused the tragic death of Mr Bridgeman, the police provided greater preliminary details than is their usual practice. The driver of the vehicle that ostensibly caused the accident was officially reported to have overtaken about three to four vehicles and colliding with them before crashing into the parked police vehicle. This smacks of recklessness on the part of the driver but a court of law still has to determine what all of Barbados – including potential jurors – have already now been told by officialdom.
But there is more.
Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley correctly expressed condolences on behalf of his ministry to the grieving family and colleagues of Mr Bridgeman. He should, however, have perhaps stopped right there.
But within the context of that accident, and one can accurately state that it was within such context because his subsequent utterances were simultaneous, Mr Lashley went further by appealing to drivers to exercise greater caution on the roads and to drive within the designated speed limits. It was excellent advice from the minister. But if Mr Lashley is speaking within the context of the death of Mr Bridgeman, and given the details divulged on the accident by those in authority, any reasonable person could be forgiven for determining that the driver involved in the fatal accident did not “exercise greater caution” and did not “drive within the designated speed limit”.
We are not insensitive to the unfortunate circumstances of Mr Bridgeman’s death or to the pain that it will cause to those he has left behind. Nor are we providing succour or sanctuary to those, who, through the manner in which they use our roads, cause immeasurable mayhem. But we are still mindful of the rights of these individuals, inclusive of the right to have a fair hearing whenever that appointed time comes.
In such a small country as Barbados perhaps the need to be very guarded and to observe established, if not legal, protocols in these matters, is magnified twofold. We must ask ourselves the question: With the volume of information provided by officialdom and the comments made by persons in authority, is there any Barbadian citizen who has not yet formed an opinion on the culpability of the driver in the accident that led to the death of Mr Bridgeman. Has the driver already been convicted in the court of public opinion?
To the family, friends and colleagues of Mr Bridgeman, we offer our deepest condolences.