IT'S A PRIVATE AFFAIR
“Hear this, I am not speaking about that, alright. I am not going to speak to you about that”.
This was the comment from Deputy Police Commissioner Harold Phillip last night in response to questions from the Sunday Guardian with respect to a letter sent to him by attorneys representing former investigative journalist Anika Gumbs.
Gumbs’ attorneys wrote Phillip accusing him of “misfeasance and/or misbehaviour in public office” as a result of what they claim was his “high-handed manner” in obtaining a search warrant for Gumbs’ home.
During a search of Gumbs’ home on July 17 her cellphone, laptop and “other similar devices containing various private documentation and material” were seized.
Gumbs’ attorneys are now calling form Phillip to return the items or face legal action.
Gumbs’ attorneys claim that Phillip’s actions exhibited a “complete contempt and disregard for the sanctity of press freedom” as it was aimed at discovering her source for an article on witness tampering allegations made against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan.
Gumbs’ source is revealed in the letter sent to Phillip.
However, in keeping with the tenets of journalism, the Sunday Guardian newspaper will not reveal that source.
The four-page letter sent to Phillip is erroneously dated ‘June 28th, 2017’ (sic) and was signed by attorney Kiel Taklalsingh”.
In addition to Taklalsingh, Gumbs is being represented by attorneys Stefan Ramkissoon, Criston Williams and Jagdeo Singh the letter stated.
The issue of witness tampering allegations against Ramlogan has been in the national spotlight since 2015 but came to the fore again following the raid on Gumbs’ home last month.
Taklalsingh claimed that upon the execution of the search warrant, Phillip “failed and/or neglected and/or refused to either particularise” Gumbs on the “basis for this warrant or provide to her a copy of same that would have enabled her to understand the reasons for the said search”.
I have been cooperating with the police, says Gumbs
Taklalsingh said that Gumbs had been assisting Phillip with the police investigation in the witness tampering case against Ramlogan.
“Specifically, you requested from my client the source of her information regarding certain newspaper articles which she authored with respect to this topic in her then capacity as a journalist with the Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspaper,” the letter stated.
Gumbs resigned from the Express on August 7, 2015.
“Throughout this purported investigation, my client has fully cooperated and has voluntarily provided to you detailed, cogent and compelling evidence, in the form of WhatsApp messages and contemporaneous notes of conversations with (prominent public official named), which pellucidly demonstrate to any reasonable investigator acting in good faith that the said (prominent public official named) was the source of the information provided to my client,” the letter stated.
“The evidence provided arguably demonstrated that it was the said (prominent public figure named) who orchestrated the flow of information to my client for the content of her article inclusive of information provided by Mr David West in an interview which has been electronically recorded by my client through a tape recorder device,” it stated.
Taklalsingh said Gumbs did not give Phillip her recorder because it contained “sensitive interviews and /or information”.
“My client, at the material time, did not proffer this device to you as she indicated there were other sensitive interviews and/or information contained in that device and as such required some time to consider if she could legally and ethically provide you with same,” the letter stated.
“As it therefore stood at this time, you were seized of sufficient information and evidence with respect to the inquiries made of my client and as such there could have existed no reasonable basis for the procuring of a search warrant in relation to her private premises,” the letter stated.
Taklalsingh said that legal principles suggest that the execution of a search warrant is “a highly intrusive affair which involves the incursion into a citizen’s constitutional rights to the enjoyment of property and/or right to privacy”.
“In the circumstances therefore, given that my client has been fully cooperative with your investigation and has further supplied you and/or was willing to supply you with all material evidence concerning the allegations under investigation, the procurement and execution of this warrant against my client seems to have been seated in malice and bad faith constituting an abuse of power,” the letter added.
Taklalsingh said Gumbs will hold Phillip “personally responsible” if any of her “confidential and/or private” information is leaked.
“Indeed, despite my client alerting you to the fact that the items which you proposed to seize contained information from journalistically protected sources in relation to unrelated matters and/or other personal data, you took no precaution and/or made no request of my client to produce the particular species of information relevant to your investigation,” the letter stated.
“Instead, you arrogated unto yourself an unlawful power to seize my client’s property unfettered by the requirements of proportionality and/or reasonability which undoubtedly evinces your complete contempt and disregard for the sanctity of press freedom. On this issue, please note that my client will hold you personally responsible as the custodian of the items seized should any confidential and/or private information belonging to my client be disseminated in the public sphere.”
Gumbs is now calling for Phillip to return all of her items that were seized.
“Having regard to the high-handed manner in which you have sought to utilise this search warrant, my client is forced to question the bona fides of same as your actions seem to demonstrate an intention to deprive my client of politically sensitive information rather than pursuant to any genuine investigation into the truth of the aforesaid allegations,” the letter stated.
“This bring into question issues of misfeasance and/or misbehaviour in public office wherein you may have exercised the power entrusted to you, by virtue of the office which you hold for unlawful purposes”.
“I further call upon you to immediately return to my client all items which you have seized pursuant to the execution of this search warrant as the return of same may allow you to mitigate the damages which my client has suffered and perhaps persuade my client to not embark upon legal proceedings against you,” it stated.
Taklalsingh is now requesting a copy of the search warrant, and documents used in applying for the search warrant.
The Sunday Guardian called Phillip last night but he refused to comment on the situation.
Attempts to contact acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams and Head of Corporate Communications at the T&T Police Service (TTPS) Ellen Lewis for a comment on the situation proved futile yesterday.
On January 25, 2015, the Express newspaper published an article written by Gumbs which claimed that six days before David West was appointed as director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) Ramlogan telephoned him and asked him to withdraw his witness statement in a defamation lawsuit between Ramlogan and then opposition leader, now prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley.
The defamation lawsuit stemmed from statements Ramlogan claimed Rowley made during a news conference on November 8, 2011, relating to Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh’s ruling in which he quashed the Attorney General’s decision to order the extradition of Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, arising out of the Piarco International Airport enquiry.
Ramlogan strongly denied the accusations.
On January 29, 2015, West reported Ramlogan to the police for alleged witness tampering.
Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams immediately launched a probe and Phillip was appointed to lead the investigation.
On February 2, 2015, then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar called on the President Anthony Carmona to rescind the appointments of Ramlogan and then national security minister Gary Griffith, who was a witness in the matter against Ramlogan.
On August 7, 2015, Gumbs resigned from the Express newspaper.