A 24-YEAR-OLD soldier, Private Timothy Bancroft, has been booted out of the Barbados Defence Force (BDF), “severely reprimanded” and fined the equivalent of almost two months’ pay.
Presiding over a court martial, Judge Major Christopher Birch handed down the sentence yesterday afternoon, at BDF headquarters, St Ann’s Fort.
Bancroft was found guilty of stealing an army camouflage outfit discovered in the trunk of a car he had borrowed from another soldier, Private Andrew Legall, on November 28, 2013.
On Tuesday he had pleaded guilty to two other charges: escaping lawful custody at the fort; and breaking BDF orders by boarding a public service vehicle outside headquarters, at a place other than a bus stop.
On the charge of escaping legal custody, the ruling was that Bancroft be “dismissed forthwith” from the BDF. He was severely reprimanded for disobeying BDF standing orders. He was fined the equivalent of 56 days’ pay on the stealing charge.
Bancroft, who joined the BDF in May 2009, earned $89.01 per day.
Judge Birch said Bancroft had exercised “very, very bad judgment” not befitting a soldier of his experience, knowledge and position.
What “bothered” him was that while Bancroft was a military policeman “tasked” with guarding and securing people, he himself had ended up escaping lawful custody. Judge Birch said he hoped it would be the last such case at the BDF.
He also commented that soldiers were expected to take care of each other and to “die for one another”. “What we are not expected to do is to make victims of one another and that is what happened” in this case, he charged.
He went on to say that Bancroft had borrowed the key to the vehicle in which the camouflage clothing was found, had retained the key, and there was no evidence that another person had access to the key or vehicle.
Earlier, in summing up, Bancroft’s legal representative, Sub Lieutenant Rita Evans, said the prosecution had not produced any witnesses who had seen him remove the camouflage outfit which another soldier had washed and hung on a line to dry.
Nobody had seen Bancroft “stashing” the outfit in the trunk of the car where it was found either, she contended.
She complained that the investigation was flawed, saying that while the BDF might not have the “capabilities” of CSI and Miami Vice – two popular criminal investigatory TV shows – fingerprinting and other techniques should have been used.
There were “too many gaping holes, too many lacunas in the evidence”, she charged. She argued that Bancroft did not have a case to answer.
Prosecutor, Captain Sandra Blackman, made the point that Bancroft’s not being seen handling the camouflage outfit was not essential to the trial.
She said a “prima facie case” had been made out against him and it was up to him to detail his movements on the day the uniform was stolen to show he could not have made use of the two “windows of opportunity” presented to take the clothing off the line and put it in the car.
She also said the stolen item had been “found in his possession” and he had attempted to leave the base at a time when it was “locked down”.
According to Blackman, the fact that he had cooperated in the search of the vehicle – as pointed out by Evans – was not necessarily a point in his favour since it was the way things were done in the army and Bancroft was simply complying with an order.
Judge Birch ruled that Bancroft had a case to answer and gave him three options: to remain silent; to make an unsworn statement; and to make a sworn statement, on which he could be cross-examined.
Bancroft made a brief unsworn statement in which he declared his innocence.
Judge Birch and the four members of his panel – Lieutenant (Coast Guard)
Ryan Alleyne, Lieutenant (Coast Guard) Wesley Belle, Lieutenant (Coast Guard) Derrick Brathwaite and Sub-Lieutenant Jerome Belle – retired at this point to consider the evidence.
They returned about an hour later with the guilty verdict on the stealing charge.
Before the panel retired again to consider sentencing, Evans urged the court to “dig deep into the bosom of mercy”, to look at the “lower threshold of punishment” on each charge and not to consider a “custodial sentence” for the soldier.
The options she raised included a discharge from the BDF and a fine.
She also pointed out that Bancroft was the father of a two-year-old child and had to take care of his mother, who had health issues, including diabetes.
Asked by the judge if he had any comment to make, Bancroft said no.