The lead investigator in the bribery trial of former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson on Thursday admitted that in hindsight she was wrong to hold a joint meeting between two prospective prosecution witnesses.
However, Assistant Superintendent Debra Thompson maintained that the meeting intended to “iron out ambiguities” in the witness statements of contractor Jonathan Ash and government official Deborah Bastian, and did not affect Gibson’s chance for a fair trial.
Thompson met with Ash and Bastian, then a consultant with the National Health Insurance Secretariat, on September 25, 2017, “to clear up” differences between their accounts of what happened during a meeting with Gibson in January 2017 about the more than $1million the government owed Ash for work associated with the post Hurricane Matthew cleanup.
The meeting with the witnesses occurred more than a month after Gibson had been formally charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Ash in order to approve payments for work associated with cleanup efforts following Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Gibson had ministerial responsibility for the cleanup and relief efforts following the devastating storm.
Ash has testified about his alleged bribe payments to Gibson, which were reportedly first made through Bastian, before he allegedly began paying Gibson himself.
However, the prosecution has said that it does not intend to call Bastian as a witness.
Gibson’s lawyer, K. D. Knight, QC, grilled Thompson about the propriety of allowing the witnesses’ lawyers to coach them on how to phrase their statements during the joint meeting.
Knight asked, “Do you agree with the principle that there should be no prompting by any other person when taking a statement?”
Thompson replied, “It really depends.”
Thompson acknowledged that Ash’s lawyer, Alicia Bowe, and Bastian’s lawyer, Raymond Rolle, advised their clients on how to phrase their statements.
Thompson also admitted that the lawyers gave her advice.
Knight said, “That brought about changes to the statements.”
Thompson replied, “Clarifications were made.”
Knight continued, “The statement of one was altered to accommodate the statement of the others.”
Thompson replied, “It was not altered to accommodate … ambiguities were cleared up.”
Knight asked, “Do you know that was wrong?”
Thompson replied, “In hindsight, I’m now aware.”
Knight said, “And wrong to the extent that it could affect the fairness of the trial. Witnesses colluding so that their evidence is synchronized. You don’t think that would affect a fair trial?”
Thompson did not agree.
Knight asked, “But you wanted the evidence to be synchronized?”
Thompson replied, “I wanted clarification.”
Knight said, “Ms. Thompson, you recognized what you did was wrong.”
She replied, “I’m not saying what I did was wrong. At the time I wanted to clear up ambiguities between the two witnesses.”
Knight charged, “What you did was bring the investigative process into disrepute.”
Thompson said, “I disagree with you; the purpose of the meeting was to clear up ambiguities.”
Knight asked Thompson about Gibson’s denial of ever asking for shingles in his police interview.
She agreed that she interpreted his denial to mean that he never asked for shingles in the context of cash.
The defense has asserted that Gibson was referring to shingles in their literal sense when he asked Ash for shingles.
Ash has testified that shingles was Gibson’s code word for cash.
In re-examination by lead prosecutor James Guthrie QC, Thompson admitted that Gibson’s original response to the question about demanding shingles was “no, no, no.”
He later added, “I have never asked for or demanded any shingles from Jonathan Ash.”
The trial resumes before Justice Carolita Bethell and a nine-member jury on Monday.
Guthrie is assisted by Director of Public Prosecutions Garvin Gaskin, Terry Archer and Destiny McKinney.
Damian Gomez, QC, Philip McKenzie and Owen Wells are assisting Knight.