ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A legal battle mounted by friends, Andrew Sharpe and Mark Smith, is soon to end as High Court Judge Jennifer Remy is currently determining the quantum of damages government must pay the two UK citizens for unlawfully detaining them at Her Majesty’s Prison for five months.
Last week, the men, their lawyer Ralph Francis and Crown Counsel Luann De Costa of the attorney general’s office, appeared before the judge and presented final arguments to assist the court in its assessment of the damages (money paid or claimed as compensation for harm, loss or injury).
Earlier this year, the attorney general’s office admitted liability for the men’s unlawful detention but the parties could not agree on a figure for damages.
The duo wants damages for unlawful detention and loss of freedom for 143 days and also for the conditions they had to endure while in the overcrowded jail.
The men presented information to the court detailing the “horrid” conditions under which they were unlawfully kept.
They said they were all housed in small cells that contained up to 10 persons and only three bunk beds.
Those who had no bed upon which to sleep were forced to sleep on a blanket on the floor.
Sharpe and Smith said there was no sanitary receptacle in the cell, save for a bucket provided for all 10 prisoners to use and it was emptied before breakfast, lunch and at 4 pm.
At last count, prison officials indicated that the facility now houses about 320 inmates although it was built to accommodate 150.
Despite the men’s claims, the attorney general’s office believes the court should order nominal (the lowest possible) damages since the men “suffered no injury, loss or damage.”
Initially, the Crown said, the men’s detention in October 2009 was lawful as they were remanded on charges of larceny of $37,500 and obtaining $65,000 with intent to defraud.
They were taken to court for weekly remands as required by law, but, due to a procedural error, prison authorities stopped sending them to court for weekly remands between December 22, 2009 and May 12, 2010.
During that period, the duo’s committal date in February 2010 passed without their going before a magistrate.
The criminal charges were subsequently dropped and both men were released on May 14, 2010.
The two friends filed the claim against the state in September 2010.