By Colin Crummy
The Bromley News Shopper has branded a petition handover "a farce", claiming the Bahamas High Commission refused entry to the parents of a child killed by a speedboat on the Caribbean island.
Armed with a 1,000-signature petition of support as part of the News Shopper’s Justice for Paul campaign, reporter Sara Nelson said that she, the deceased’s parents, Paul and Andrea Gallagher and John Horam, MP for Orpington, were refused entry to the High Commission last week, despite having been given confirmation that it would be accepted in person.
Nelson said of the handover: "They [the High Commission] didn’t answer the door, they disconnected the doorbell, they didn’t admit their cleaners, it was slightly bizarre really. It’s a public building after all.
"Paul’s parents were disgusted — they were very shocked. They thought the worst-case scenario would be handing over the petition to a clerk on a desk or something similar. They did not expect to be locked out."
The Justice for Paul campaign was launched in February to force Bahamian government action into the child’s death after a company and the speedboat driver in the Bahamas escaped prosecution, despite both being unlicensed, unregistered and uninsured.
An inquest on the island previously ruled Paul’s death was accidental, but a second held at Bromley Magistrates’ Court returned an open verdict.
A watersports bill is currently being drafted in the Bahamas, but Nelson said she’d had no clarification as to its remit.
In a statement to Press Gazette, the High Commission said that Nelson had been "fully informed" of the status of the Gallagher case and that the Bahamas and UK governments had "already agreed through diplomatic channels that there should be a joint review of the case by the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Metropolitan Police" with dates and terms of reference also confirmed.
The statement continued: "In the circumstances there is nothing further the High Commission could say before the review has been completed.
Consequently, while the existence of a petition was noted it did not influence a decision already taken."
The party posted the petition through the letterbox and have had no communication from the High Commission since the delivery.
The High Commission questioned the presence of "a battery of newsmen and cameras", including Sky News at the petition delivery, which it considered "not necessary".
The commission’s statement added: "The High Commission regrets that News Shopper did not inform them that the Gallagher family and their MP, John Horam, would be delivering the petition, had they done so, an appropriate meeting could then have been arranged."
News Shopper news editor Matt Ramsden said: "We welcome the news that the Bahamian authorities have agreed to let the Met Police visit the island, but, like the family, we are all too aware that this is the first step on what will be a very long road to achieving justice for the little lad."