Close to a month ago this newspaper featured an item centered on the closure of Saint Lucia’s only crime lab, located at Tapion. The item’s contributor, who obviously had inside information, revealed that the shutdown was to facilitate an audit by the imported director of a forensic lab in Barbados.
The local lab’s regular staff (excluding its native director who had resigned one year ahead of her contract’s expiry date) were ordered by attendant police personnel to hand over their cell phones at the start of an introductory meeting with the auditor. The lab’s personnel were required also to hand in their security passes and to stay away from the facility until further notice. In their absence the audit allegedly got underway.
Shortly after our story hit newsstands, the justice minister Philip La Corbiniere publicly acknowledged the island’s only forensic lab had indeed been shut down for the purposes of an audit. Pressured by reporters for details, La Corbiniere promised last Tuesday another related statement before the week was out.
At time of writing, more than eight days later, the justice minister still has not delivered on his promise. There has been no new official word on the controversy-plagued multi-million-dollar lab. Its doors remain shut and out of bounds, its regular staff reportedly on ordered leave.
In the meantime at least two experts have underscored the possible consequences on pending court matters involving tests conducted by the lab, including DNA. In any event, it would seem the justice minister has not been altogether forthcoming with the public.
STAR investigations reveal the lab has been shut indefinitely and may not be operational again for the foreseeable future, not until several important security questions have been satisfactorily addressed.
Said our well-informed source: “The police normally deliver blood and other samples to lab personnel for analysis. Large quantities of drugs are not normally stored at the premises. Immediately after items have been analyzed and appropriately marked, they are taken away for storage by law enforcement.”
Recently, something went awry. After an individual was arrested on suspicion of cocaine trafficking, the related exhibits were delivered to the lab. Inexplicably, on the occasion the analyzed samples (two sacks containing what the police suspected was cocaine) were not collected by the police. Shortly afterward two more unrelated sacks of suspected cocaine were delivered to the lab for processing, following which they were collected in the usual fashion by the officers who had submitted them. It later turned out they were imposters.
Meanwhile, the man charged with drug trafficking has pleaded guilty, despite that the prosecution will face an uphill climb proving its case. To put it still another way: the exhibits at the heart of the trafficking charge, the proof of the pudding, so to speak, have gone up in smoke; vanished. All the prosecution now has are two sacks marked by crime lab personnelas containing cocaine although their actual content is something else not the least bit illicit.
It was this late discovery that had led to the hurried shutdown of the crime lab and the controversial audit. Meanwhile, surprise-surprise, “investigations are on-going.” As I write I am further informed that the imported auditor and now director is not alone at the lab, contrary to earlier reports. The latest word is that she heads a staff of eleven that includes a drug analyst and two drug custodians supplied by NICE.
Keeping in mind police officers must first undergo polygraph tests before they are promoted, I can only hope the lab’s new operators were appropriately screened before they were taken on board as replacements for the vacationing original crew.
It remains for the justice minister to come clean on this all-important issue. Then again he has famously denied several stories broken by this newspaper, stories later confirmed by the nation’s prime minister—not least of them that the State Department had withdrawn financial and other support for the local police force until alleged “gross human rights abuses” have been properly investigated and appropriate action taken.