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Woman cleared of murder seeks millions from the State - Nine years, regular cavity searches behind bars

Published:Sunday | July 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator

A legal secretary who spent nine years in prison, before her murder conviction was overturned by the United Kingdom Privy Council in 2012, has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Government for false imprisonment.

Annette Livingston is also contending that she was subjected to inhumane conditions, including daily body cavity searches while in custody.

Livingston, 54, who came to public attention in 2000 when she and three men were charged with the murder of attorney-at-law Shirley Playfair, is seeking damages for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

She outlined in court documents filed in the Supreme Court that she continues to suffer from anxiety and mental distress as she has not been able to adjust to normal life as a free person.

The attorney general and police inspector Errol Grant are the defendants in the suit in which Livingston, who was Playfair's legal secretary, is also seeking damages for assault and battery; breach of her constitutional right to a fair trial; and breaches of her constitutional right not to be subjected to inhumane and degrading punishment or treatment.

She is contending that at the time Grant initiated criminal proceedings against her he did not have reasonable and probable cause to do so.

Playfair's throat was slashed at her office at Seymour Avenue, St Andrew, on April 13, 2000. In March 2003, Livingston and two men were found guilty of her murder.

The Crown alleged at the trial that there was a plan between Livingston and the men to kill Playfair. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to serve lengthy prison terms before they could be eligible for parole.

Livingston was ordered to serve 60 years' imprisonment but in 2006 the Court of Appeal reduced her prison time to 35 years. The other two men also lost their appeal. A third man who was charged with them escaped from custody in 2002.

The former legal secretary's appeal to the Privy Council was held up for five years because she could not find the money to hire lawyers to represent her.

However, her appeal was allowed in October 2012 as the Privy Council found that the presiding judge did not direct the jury properly. The Crown was given 28 days to decide if there should be a retrial.

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn decided that it would be futile to have a retrial and Livingston was released from prison on December 24, 2012.

Livingston, who now resides in Buff Bay, Portland, is being represented by attorney-at-law Raphael Codlin in her pursuit for compensation.

Livingston outlined in court documents that she was subjected to inhuman and degrading punishment while in prison. She referred to random searches between five and six o'clock in the mornings where she and other inmates would be "rudely awakened from their sleep, herded from their beds and required to remove all their clothing in what was cold and sometimes freezing temperatures".

She further alleged that she would be taken into a room and ordered to "remove all her clothing in the presence of prison wardens and was subjected to the most inhumane treatment including cavity searches".

According to Livingston, the cavity search would involve her being "forced while in the nude to squat with her legs apart and cough". She alleged that she was also forced to bend forward and touch her toes with her legs apart to allow wardens easy access for inspecting her private parts. She said that practice continued for the entire time that she was in prison.

Livingston described the condition in the prison as unsanitary and claimed that on many occasions there were as many as 32 people in one dormitory. In the court documents, Livingston further alleged that the Fort Augusta Correction Centre, where she was held, was infested with mosquitoes and large rats, and she was bitten twice by rats and had to be given tetanus shots.

She claimed that during her incarceration her mother and brother died, and when she applied to the prison authority to attend the funerals they denied her request, leaving her devastated and depressed.

Livingston further charged that her youngest child, who was 10 years old when she was sent to prison, was allowed to visit her only once per year and that resulted in additional trauma for her.

Although Livingston has gained her freedom, she says she continues to suffer from compulsive disorder. "Having been offered a job, I got dressed and attempted to take the job only to find that because of mental and physical compulsion I could not go beyond the door of the house," charged Livingston.

She has claimed that as a result of her unlawful detention and subsequent breach of her constitutional rights, she suffered injury, mental suffering, distress, anxiety, humiliation and loss of reputation.