Former Lucea mayor walks free

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LUCEA, Hanover — Former Mayor of Lucea Shernet Haughton was freed of charges brought against her in relation to misconduct in a public office and breaches of the public sector procurement regulations of 2008, when she appeared in the Hanover Parish Court on Tuesday.

The charges were made following a report by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) that was submitted to Parliament in March 2015.

In the report, Haughton was accused of nepotism and criminal offences in the Hanover Parish Council’s (now Hanover Municipal Corporation) award of 22 contracts, with a cumulative value of $3.7 million, to her relatives and affiliates.

Haughton’s attorney, Delford Morgan, said his client was freed on a no-case submission presented by the defence to the court, who argued that the Crown did not make out a prima facie case against her.

Morgan said the evidence presented at trial by the Crown was insufficient “to ground the charges against her”.

A committal hearing in the case began in May 2016, in the Hanover Parish Court where Haughton pleaded not guilty.

The case later went on trial in the same court on October 23, 2018, and following the trial Haughton was freed.

The prosecution had called several witnesses, including auditors, the chief engineer of the Hanover Municipal Corporation, and admitted into evidence recorded interviews of Haughton and others by the contractor general.

Senior Parish Judge for Hanover Sharon Barnes reportedly stated that “what came before me was insufficient to call on Miss Haughton to state her defence”.

“The trial went as expected for the defence. That is to say, we were always hopeful and expectant that the outcome would be as it is. That is to say there was really no case to answer,” said Morgan during an interview with the Jamaica Observeron Wednesday.

Morgan, who is a former mayor of Savanna-la-Mar, said information revealed in the OCG’s report “is something that transpires daily in politics” adding that “what took place does not constitute a criminal offence”.

“Recommending a person for contract, whether that person is your relative, political affiliate or stranger doesn’t constitute a criminal offence, certainly not as the law is in Jamaica today,” he said.

“The contractor general’s opinion that something had gone woefully amiss was not supported by the huge body of evidence unearthed by investigations. I am happy it is behind the lady (Haughton). If you ask me, she was driven out of office literally, but today she stands vindicated.”

Added Morgan: “I will not say that the process should remain as it is. Clearly, I am not. But what I will say, it is not for the courts to make laws, nor is it for the Office of the Contractor General to make laws and create offences. It is a matter for Parliament.”

Haughton, who at the time of the allegations was a first-time People’s National Party councillor for the Green Island Division (March 2012 – November 2016) was elated with the result.

‘Today, I am feeling happy that after five years of my reputation being tarnished worldwide, I am feeling great to know that I am victorious,” she told the Observer. “I think that the judge had dealt with it quite fairly. She had outlined everything and I feel that I was treated fairly as it relates to what happened in the court.”

Haughton said while the incident had taken a toll on both herself and her family, she had reassured them that she had done nothing wrong, and had placed the case and her lawyer in the hands of God.

Haughton resigned as mayor of Lucea in August 2014, but remained as councillor for the Green Island Division.

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