While at home St Lucia police have been praised by some for their crime fighting efforts, abroad they are under heavy fire. The May 10 alleged gang rape of two British students at Grand Anse beach has been spurring interest around the world.
The UK press has been buzzing with news of the incident. One particular story on Yahoo! News caught the STAR’s attention. It was an article on May 18 from the Associated Press and was written by a local journalist entitled “6 St Lucian men charged with raping 2 UK women.” In the piece, the journalist quoted an “official” who said the men have been charged. The journalist went further to say a police statement said six men were arrested and were to be brought before the courts later this month.
The story went viral and even evoked calls for a boycott of St Lucia. Unfortunately, the information in the piece was contrary to what was being revealed on island.
Both the Acting Police Commissioner and the Acting Police Commissioner in charge of Crime and Intelligence, Vernon Francois and Frances Henry respectively, took to the airwaves to announce that although several men were in custody assisting with the investigation, given the time of night the incident occurred and the fact that the men were said to have worn masks, posed significant physical identification issues. It was against this backdrop police said the investigation would center around forensic and DNA evidence. While in custody, samples were taken from the men. Francois was quick to note that although samples were taken from the men, it is no indication of guilt. Both cops said until the results of the forensic evidence are received, no charges can be laid.
On May 19 another article from the AP appeared on Yahoo! News under the title “St Lucia police now say no charges in rape case.”
The article stated: “Police on the Caribbean island of St Lucia say they wrongly announced that six local men have been charged with raping two British women.”
“Acting Assistant Police Commissioner Frances Henry says investigators are still interviewing several suspects in connection with the incident and no charges have been filed. The Thursday [May 19] announcement comes a day after a police statement said six detained men had been charged.”
The STAR did not receive any information from the police regarding the men in custody being charged in connection with the rape.
Speaking to Francois on Tuesday May 24, the Acting Police Chief is outraged by the negative publicity the police force is getting. He denies that either he or Henry issued any statement saying the men were charged.
Therefore, “to conclude the police botched the case is based on a journalist’s misinformation. We have already spoken out on the investigation and where the investigation is at the moment. We are awaiting forensic results before we proceed. We have not botched, bungled or dropped the ball in this matter. We have to have evidence before we can charge anybody and bring them before a court of law,” said the Ag police chief.
Attorney General Lorenzo Rudolph Francis has also been weighing in on the issue. He told the STAR, “The AG’s Chambers is extremely disappointed by the level of unprofessionalism of some journalists. They need to be cognizant of what they write or say in the media, especially when it impacts our tourism industry. Their information must be factual and accurate and they must verify and obtain facts from reliable sources before putting any information out, especially on the internet.”
“The statements are reproduced by various media outlets without those outlets themselves verifying the information because they assume it is accurate. They assume the journalist did their research and investigations and the results are credible. People in general have to be more responsible with the information we disseminate.”