January 25, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Prison escape and officials were silent

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Colin WilsonwebCITN/Cayman27 first broke the story of three prisoners escaping from HM Northward Prison at around 9:45pm on Wednesday (14) and received confirmation after they had contacted officials. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) confirmed to CITN that it was true and an official statement would be coming soon.

No details were given other than it was three prisoners.

Along with CITN, Cayman’s other media houses waited expecting anytime the identities of the three prisoners would be announced together with descriptions and photographs so we could inform Cayman’s public.

We waited a very long time.

The first official release came from the RCIPS the following day (Thu) at 7:16am giving absolutely no further information except confirmation three prisoners were on the loose. The release finished with this terse message, “For further detail please contact Northward Prison officials”!

And the RCIPS didn’t think the media hadn’t tried?

Finally at 8:30am, Christian Lennon, from the Government Information Service sent iNews Cayman the information we had been waiting for, nearly 12 hours after the event, except it contained no photographs.

The photographs arrived ten minutes afterwards.

Perhaps the authorities are unaware but the media is here to help. All of Cayman’s media houses are responsible entities and none of us want three dangerous criminals running around our island.

As a TOP PRIORITY the prison and RCIPS should have almost immediately sent out the descriptions and photographs of these convicts to ALL the media.

I well remember the same thing happening when the infamous Northward Prison riot took place in November 1999.

I was head of CITN at the time and we could get no information from anyone at the prison. The public was calling us continually, frightened out of their wits for their safety as rumours were circulating that inmates had escaped and were running rampant all over the neighbourhood. We were also being told the prison had been set on fire.

CITN had just acquired an outside broadcast truck and this was sent down to Northward with then reporter Gilbert Nicoletta.

When he arrived there he reported by phone to us that indeed the prison was on fire and it looked like all the prisoners were running loose in the outside but fenced compound.

We reported this and I immediately got a furious call from the then head of Government Information Service (GIS) telling us our report was false. There was no fire and all the prisoners were locked down in their cells. I argued with the GIS head and she was adamant her information was accurate and we must correct what we had said.

We did this, but under duress, and also informed the public we would be broadcasting live pictures from Northward any moment.

We did just that.  It proved our information was right. It also showed the public that prisoners had not broken free, they were still locked up inside the compound, although they were not in their cells.

This reassured the public.

An hour later the GIS head gave me another statement to read out saying again there was no fire and all the prisoners were locked down. I bluntly said this was not true but if you want me to say this I will. I was curtly told I had ‘better’ read it out.

Over the live telecast showing the fires and the prisoners running around I personally read out the GIS release.

The fat really did hit the fire after that.

However, instead of us getting a thank you from the authorities for calming the public down who were quite rightly scared stiff of prisoners loose on Cayman’s streets, we got a reprimand from government and the Police Commissioner who had been off island at the time of the incident.

So no lessons seem to have been learnt.

The media here in Cayman is responsible and it is about time the authorities realise this and use us as another tool in their armoury. As I said before, we should have been informed of the breakout immediately it occurred with descriptions and photographs.

Quite frankly the long wait was and is appalling.

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