Courtenay fabricated Allegations against former British High Commissioner Print E-mail
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Thursday, 09 May 2013 00:00

Eamon Courtenay and John YappA Royal Court of Justice judge has ruled that former Ambassador to Belize John Yapp is entitled to damages to compensate him for losses after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the U.K. acted in breach of his contract and breached their duty and care to him when he was withdrawn from his position in Belize. The judgment was handed down by Justice Cranston on Friday, May 3rd.

Yapp had been withdrawn from Belize in June of 2008 following allegations that he had touched the bottom of Eamon Courtenay’s wife, Denise, at a function. Thereafter, an investigation of sexual misconduct and of bullying against his staff was conducted by the FCO. The Office was more concerned with the allegations of sexual impropriety which were deemed to be baseless.

The investigation, which was conducted by Michael Gifford who is now the U.K Ambassador to North Korea, acquitted Yapp of sexual misconduct.

Those accusations arose out of allegations made by Eamon Courtenay who claimed that Yapp had inappropriately touched his wife. Investigations on the matter proved that this was one of many allegations made by Courtenay against Yapp which were deemed to have been politically motivated. The judgment provides documents which showed that at the time, Courtenay complained to Christopher Wood, at the time Director of Americas at the FCO, about 6 separate issues. In Justice Cranston’s summation of the case he cited the following: “Mr. Wood spoke to Mr. Courtenay on the telephone on 10 June... Mr. Wood summarised what Mr. Courtenay had told him in an email (“the Wood” email) which he sent the same day to Ms. Le Jeune, Mr. Evans, Dr. Kane and Mr. Rankin. In the Wood email, the claimant’s behaviour, and its consequences, were as follows: (1) at private events the claimant had acted inappropriately with women, including touching Mrs. Denise Courtenay’s bottom, and so people were no longer prepared to invite him to events; (2) the claimant was having a relationship with a member of staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize and, consequently, was held in little respect there; (3) the claimant was not joining in diplomatic events in Belize and thus, the wider diplomatic community was developing a negative view of him; (4) he, Mr. Courtenay, had declined to attend events at the High Commission during the visit of an FCO Minister, Meg Munn MP; (5) that the claimant had adopted an inappropriate tone with the Belizean Prime Minister, seeming to summon him to an event; (6) Mr. Courtenay was “picking up messages” that the claimant was treating staff in the High Commission appallingly; his colonial approach was not appropriate to the modern world; and (7) he, Mr. Courtenay, thought that the claimant’s approach to work was superficial; he was simply not seen about town and he was not known to be building contacts. Mr. Courtenay commented that the sooner the claimant left Belize the better. For his part he would not be inviting the claimant to future events.”

Courtenay’s claims however were never proven. In the Judge’s summation he pointed out that, “Mr. Gifford said in the report that they appeared to be made in good faith. Mr. Courtenay’s demeanour and approach when he was interviewed led Mr. Gifford to judge that he was sincere. In his report, Mr. Gifford then referred to the evidence from others which undermined Mr. Courtenay’s account. He was known to be one of the most over-sensitive persons in Belize. Mr. Gifford reported that he had raised the issue of sexual misconduct with seven persons, both inside and outside the High Commission, and none had witnessed any of what Mr. Courtenay had alleged. (In evidence before me, Mr. Gifford said that he had concluded that nonetheless there was a case to answer because there remained a doubt in his mind). As to Mr. Courtenay’s allegation of a superficial attitude to work, wrote Mr. Gifford, in the report. The evidence was to the contrary. In any event, Mr. Courtenay would not know of the claimant’s reporting and analysis. Mr. Gifford concluded that the Courtenay allegation about the claimant’s affairs with an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unreliable, not backed by any other source, unclear as to who was involved, second hand and based on gossip.”  The judge continued, “Mr. Gifford then said that he had concluded that there was sufficient doubt about the reliability of Mr. Courtenay as a witness, and a lack of other evidence. Thus on the balance of probabilities the Courtenay allegations were not substantiated.” He further added that, “Given the evidence now before the court from Prime Minister Barrow what Mr. Courtenay said on this topic was, in fact, nonsense. As to the allegation of sexual misconduct with women, these came out of the blue. Although the incidents were supposed to go back several months no one had ever mentioned the matter before.”

It’s quite a shame that because of an allegation of this magnitude a man was deprived of being High Commissioner to Belize having only served 10 months into his 3-year posting.