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December 29, 2017
Case against man allegedly found with a bullet at the AIA falls apart

The case against a man said to have been found with a bullet in his possession at the Argyle International Airport (AIA) fell apart at the seams today (Friday).

Robert Steele, a Vincentian living in the United States, was allegedly found with one round of 9 mm ammunition in his suitcase at the airport, and was charged with the offence of possession of ammunition without a licence, on Wednesday, December 27.

Steele pleaded not guilty and the trial began yesterday.

However, the case hit its first speed bump when the prosecution asked for an adjournment in light of the evidence given by Aviation Security Supervisor Richard Burke.

The evidence given on stand relayed a series of events which began with the airport staff allegedly seeing a suspicious image, appearing to be a bullet, and calling in the police.

Based on information from the tag on the suitcase in question, they then retrieved Steele from the departure lounge where he was awaiting his flight, and brought him to a search room.

As per airport protocol, the defendant was present when his luggage was searched for the first time, but the search revealed nothing. The bag was then allegedly carried, open, to be X-rayed for a second time to ascertain the location of the image.

The second hand-search after the scan then supposedly resulted in a bullet being found in the front pocket of a pair of white jeans pants in the suitcase. The Supervisor also originally said Steele had nothing to say when the bullet was found.

Defence attorney Richard Williams, during cross examination, highlighted a number of facts in the case. It was revealed that when the bag was re-scanned, five airport personnel were present, but Steele himself was not.

According to Burke, this was because airport protocol prohibits passengers from entering the restricted area. Further, Burke admitted that the defendant actually said “That’s impossible,” when the bullet was found and that he did not know how it got there and had consistently denied knowledge of it.

The second day of proceedings saw evidence by another Aviation Security Supervisor, one Charles, who reaffirmed that Steele was not in the room when the open bag was rescanned in the presence of five airport personnel, including two unrelated to the situation that was at hand.

The case hit another major roadblock when Romario Woodley, the airport worker who allegedly found the bullet, said he had initialed the bullet and would be able to identify it in court. However, Woodley could not find his initials on the bullet tendered into evidence, casting doubt as to whether the bullet in court was the bullet said to be found in Steele’s suitcase.

This doubt was doubled when a police office on the scene could not identify his initials on the bullet either. His initials were ‘T.O’, but the police constable could only find ‘T’ on the bullet tendered.

Another police officer called to the stand gave incomplete evidence, leaving out a number of details in the events including the fact that the bag was searched twice and nothing was found the first time and that Steele was not there the second time the bag was scanned. This caused Williams, who was seemingly unimpressed, to tell the police officer that he had left out half the story completely.

Williams then made a no case submission to the court. The lawyer first cited the lack of identification of initials on the bullet as a reason for the case to be thrown out. He then continued, saying that there is a reason for the procedure for searching bags, commenting, “You cannot take that bag from Mr Steele’s possession, take it away from him, carry it into another room, with five of you, two persons who are unrelated to this particular criminal matter, rescan that bag in his absence,” describing these actions as ‘improper’.

The lawyer also, for the sake of argument, presenting the possibility that if one of the security personnel knew the defendant, they may “have something personal against him, we don’t know.” He stated that this breach of protocol alone is sufficient to dismiss the case.

Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne-Matthias accepted this submission and Steele was deemed free to go and his travel documents ordered to be returned to him.

The only comment the lawyer made to the media, walking out with his client after court was “justice has been served.”(KR)