Judge reserves ruling in Griffith’s libel lawsuit against newspaper

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Gary Griffith. File photo/Sureash Cholai

FORMER police commissioner Gary Griffith squared off against an investigative journalist and a media house in court on Wednesday, over a series of articles relating to the issuing of firearm licences, published in 2020.

Griffith sued the Trinidad Express newspapers, its investigative journalist Denyse Renne and fellow colleague Rickie Ramdass, claiming they “intentionally or recklessly” brought his good name and the performance of the functions of his office as commissioner – as he was when the articles were published – into public scandal and disrepute.

The former top cop testified at the virtual defamation/libel trial before Justice Jacqueline Wilson, often clashing with the media house’s attorney Farees Hosein, and insisting the articles, which were published on October 25 and 26, 2020, painted him in a “bad light.”

Hosein questioned him extensively about the articles and the approval process for the granting of provisional licences and firearm user’s licences (FULS) during his tenure.

Griffith repeatedly denied that he granted licences or provisional licences to people with dubious backgrounds despite recommendations against it from senior divisional officers.

Although one of the articles – which purported to provide “proof” of its claims that a provisional licence was given to someone under active police investigation – did not identify the person by name, Griffith was questioned about that particular applicant.

He said although the person (whose name was called at the trial) had been “approved” for a provisional licence, he never received it, after a senior divisional officer in the southwestern division sent a memo that did not recommend the application.

Griffith said when he assumed office as commissioner in 2018, he met some 60, 000 applications for FULs. His tenure ended in August 2021.

He was asked about the compliance unit he set up to do “due diligence checks” when applications were received and if, as commissioner, he would override a recommendation against an application.

He also said there was an appeals process if an application was denied.

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

“It would.”

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

Also testifying were Renne, Ramdass and the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Omatie Lyder, all of whom denied publishing “falsehoods” against the former commissioner and defended the publications.

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

Renne said none of her articles identified anyone by name, and she would not provide the names of the 15 people whose files she saw, nor would she reveal her sources, who included the spouses of businessmen who alleged they had been physically assaulted or threatened by their husbands.

“I am not at liberty to identify these people,” she maintained.

Renne went through the steps she took to verify the information in her stories, disagreeing with Lalla’s assertions that they were not a product of responsible journalism.

The judge has reserved her ruling.