Judge reserves decision in Griffith’s libel suit against newspaper

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Gary Griffith. File photo/Sureash Cholai

FORMER Police Commissioner Gary Griffith faced an investigative journalist and media house in court on Wednesday over a series of stories related to gun licensing, published in 2020.

Griffith sued the Trinidad Express newspapers, his investigative reporter Denyse Renne and his colleague Rickie Ramdass, claiming they had “intentionally or recklessly” brought his reputation and the performance of his office’s duties as commissioner – as he was when the articles were published – in public scandal and discredit.

The former top cop testified in the virtual libel/libel trial before Judge Jacqueline Wilson, often clashing with media house lawyer Farees Hosein, and insisting that the articles, which were published on October 25 and 26, 2020, portrayed him in a “bad light.”

Hosein questioned him at length about the articles and approval process for granting provisional licenses and firearms user licenses (FULS) during his tenure.

Griffith has repeatedly denied granting licenses or provisional licenses to people with questionable backgrounds despite recommendations from senior division officers to the contrary.

Although one of the articles – which claimed to provide “proof” of its claims that a provisional license had been granted to a person under active police investigation – did not identify the person by name, Griffith was asked about this particular candidate.

He said that although the person (whose name was called during the trial) was “approved” for a provisional license, he never received it, after a senior divisional officer in the Southwest Division sent a note not recommending the application.

Griffith said when he took over as commissioner in 2018, he encountered some 60,000 FUL applications. His term ended in August 2021.

He was asked about the compliance unit he has set up to carry out “due diligence checks” when receiving requests and whether as commissioner he would override a recommendation against a request.

He also said there was an appeal process if a request was denied.

Griffith insisted that the articles and the media house were unfair to him. He agreed that the three articles generated “great public interest” thanks to the headline “Gun racket”.

“It would be.”

“They lied, the Express lied to the country and defamed my name,” Griffith insisted during cross-examination.

Renne, Ramdass and the newspaper’s editor, Omatie Lyder, also testified, all of whom denied publishing “lies” against the former commissioner and defended the publications.

Renne was asked about her 11-month investigation. Griffith’s attorney, Larry Lalla, asked her to provide the names of people whose records she saw during her investigation.

Renne said none of her articles identified anyone by name, and that she would not provide the names of the 15 people whose records she saw, or reveal her sources, which included the wives of businessmen who alleged that they had been physically attacked or threatened by their husbands.

“I’m not free to identify these people,” she said.

Renne followed the steps she took to verify the information in her articles, disagreeing with Lalla’s claims that they were not the product of responsible journalism.

The judge reserved his decision.

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