Police and prison holding facilities described as “squalid” and “inhumane.” Evidence left unsecured on police officers’ desks in a “chaotic” manner. An unsafe police gun range where shooting drills occur with little warning to the public. A scarcity of the “right keys” for the “right locks” at His Majesty’s Prison. Guards who never received even basic training and who had to buy their own handcuffs. Customs officers who “put their heads down” rather than report corruption because they “fear for their safety.”

All are among the many scathing findings of a 175-page United Kingdom review of Virgin Islands law enforcement and justice administration agencies.

And while officials said the problems highlighted are already being reviewed and remedied, the report by the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services described VI agencies in severe disarray.

In general, the agencies reviewed suffer from “deep-rooted weaknesses across many aspects of public administration, including leadership at all levels,” according to the HMICFRS.

To address the most immediate concerns, the reviewers crafted 138 recommendations for reform and proposed completion deadlines, many of which were set for this year.

‘Immediate attention’

Effectively tackling the longstanding issues will require “immediate” attention and co-operation among the leaders of the agencies examined as well as Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley and Governor Daniel Pruce, who has primary responsibility for security in the territory, the review stated.

“During our review, we found serious failings in law enforcement and criminal justice bodies. In some cases, these were so serious as to endanger the lives of staff and the public,” HMICFRS Chief Inspector Andy Cooke wrote in a foreword to the report.

However, the responsibility for the agencies’ state of affairs goes beyond “current senior leaders,” he added.

“Often these failings existed for many years, and the changes required are contingent on financial and political support, which we found to be lacking,” Mr. Cooke wrote.

Many of the review’s findings highlighted issues that have previously been identified by other means such as the 2022 Commission of Inquiry, legislators’ annual Standing Finance Committee process, and reports by the media and government watchdogs such as the auditor general and the complaints commissioner.

Efforts to address issues such as substandard facilities for public officers, overcrowding at the prison, staff shortages, low pay and others have been in the works for years but have often been stymied.

Mr. Cooke acknowledged as much in the review.

“I am acutely aware that some of the organisations that we have reviewed have suffered from chronic underfunding for many years,” he wrote. “I also acknowledge the effects on the BVI of Hurricane Irma. But in some cases, we found that the most basic activities weren’t being done properly or safely.”

‘Volume one’

The 175-page reported tabled by Dr. Wheatley during an HOA meeting Tuesday was presented as “volume one” of a two-volume effort.

It focuses on immediate issues and proposes solution designed to have “the greatest positive effect on outcomes for the public in the short term,” Mr. Cooke wrote.

The second volume of the report, which is set to be published later this summer, will include a “road map” for “long-term sustainable changes,” he added.

The HMICFRS review, conducted at a cost of around $1 million and funded by the UK government, addresses two measures agreed by the VI and UK governments in the June 2022 framework for implementing reforms recommended by the 2022 COI. Both are the governor’s responsibility.

The review covered the major agencies responsible for VI security and justice: the Royal VI Police Force, the Customs Department, the His Majesty’s VI Prison Service, the Department of Immigration, the Financial Investigation Agency, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Magistrates’ Court, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, and the Attorney General Chambers. The last four agencies were examined only with respect to their interactions with the other law enforcement agencies, the report stated.

The review also covered two topics more generally: criminal justice bodies and maritime and border security.

Official reactions

As he discussed the report Tuesday, Dr. Wheatley pledged to find and provide the resources necessary to implement the reviewers’ recommendations.

“We are pleased to report that some of the deficiencies mentioned in the report have already started to be addressed,” he said. “And significant work is ongoing to elevate standards of operations and performance across the board.”

As he moved to open legislative debate over the review, a siren wailed in the distance. The premier then spoke for several minutes about the governor’s role in assuring security and lamented the loss of a time when VI society was smaller and suffered less crime.

He mostly attributed the changes to “modernity” and a lessening of “Christian values,” describing a decline of the “homogenisation” of what was once a closer-knit VI community.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Mr. Pruce spoke about the ongoing efforts to comply with the recommendations and praised “the work of officers across many agencies who have already acted on recommendations assigned to them.”

Mr. Pruce also said the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has already recruited an “implementation manager” to “oversee” the reforms.

He did not name the manager, but said they arrived last month and had already begun working with government agencies to implement recommendations.

Governor’s Office Policy Officer David Humphreys told the Beacon that the manager will update the National Security Council monthly on the reform progress.


However, the HMICRIS review suggests that the reforms ahead will not be easy.

At the RVIPF, for instance, the reviewers found an agency culture that “would make change difficult.”

“We heard examples of officers and staff, including those at senior levels, who actively block change and refuse to follow instructions and orders,” the reviewers noted.

Additionally, they described a police department where some officers’ “unethical behaviour falls far short of the standards outlined in the Code of Ethics.”

This misbehaviour included “misogynistic comments,” among other examples, they said.

“In interviews, officers described a culture in the organisation that relies on nationality and resident status in the selection of applicants for posts,” the review stated. “And it was perceived that the hierarchy in the organisation does little to challenge this culture.”

The reviewers were told by police officers of “WhatsApp groups that are based on the islands where officers originate from.”

“When this happens without challenge, it can create divisions in the workforce,” the review stated.

Advice for police

Many of the report’s 38 recommendations for the RVIPF, however, deal with more specific matters such as the absence of good record-keeping practices; the lack of first aid and refresher training for officers; the problem of officers being equipped with outdated Tasers and “incapacitant spray;” and many other issues.

“The conditions in which detainees are held at Road Town Police Station are squalid and unsafe,” the review added. “One of the cells has damp and black mould on the walls and ceiling, which can be smelt immediately when opening the door. This cell presents a clear health hazard and shouldn’t be used.”

In another instance, the review found that while officers have been given body cameras, the footage isn’t effectively used in investigations, in part because there is only one staff member who can access it.

The reviewers also described the RVIPF’s firing range on an uninhabited cay as a dangerous safety hazard.

“When we visited the range, a member of the public was using the area for crab fishing,” the report stated. “The officers told us that they raise a red flag when the range is live. However, it can’t be seen from all approaches — for example, by visiting boats.”

Police Commissioner Mark Collins told the Beacon that the police force has already addressed many of the issues raised in the report, particularly when it comes to understaffing.

“We have record numbers of officers now and 26 recruits currently in training,” he said.

The RVIPF, he added, now has a dedicated police vessel on Virgin Gorda and is “committed to continuous professional development of all staff.”


The reviewers found that understaffing and low salaries were a problem for most of the territory’s law enforcement agencies.

At HM Customs, for instance, officers aren’t being paid for overtime or temporary promotions in a timely manner, they stated.

Fixing such issues will require navigating a lengthy recruiting process and making a bid to fund positions from government’s Human Resources Department, according to the report.

“Recruitment delays are also caused by a policy that doesn’t allow HM Customs to advertise posts until an exit interview with the outgoing post-holder has been completed. We found that in many instances these interviews weren’t conducted until the person had already left the organisation,” the review found.


The reviewers also spoke to customs staff who described “pervasive micromanagement” and leaders who didn’t empower line staff to make routine decisions without consulting supervisors.

Reviewers were told that customs managers set the agency’s weekly priorities during regular Monday meetings, but many staff proved to be unaware of any such priorities, the report stated.

“We were unable to substantiate this or review the effectiveness of the meeting, as our requests to attend the meeting and to review the minutes were all refused,” the report stated.

The department’s facilities at ports of entry were also found lacking.

“We were told by staff at some locations that if they have to carry out a search of persons, they have to do this in rooms with large windows,” the review stated. “This doesn’t provide the searched person with suitable privacy. In one location, they told us that the only alternative is to search people in the toilet.”

Representatives of HM Customs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Immigration, prisons

Many of the review’s findings were applicable to multiple departments. For instance, Immigration, the RVIPF, HM Customs and the prison service were all advised to make much better use of the intelligence they gather.

Reviewers also recommended better training and additional safety equipment for the agencies.

In the prison service, reviewers also found a “lack of effective leadership,” a “failure of basic administrative functions,” and inadequate security arrangements.

The review acknowledged that proposed reforms for the prison from recent years have been collected in an “action plan.”

“But we noted a lack of drive to pursue the action plan, with little obvious intent to achieve the recommendations,” the report stated. “There appeared to be a distinct lack of autonomy or freedom given to the superintendent of prisons. This is limiting their ability to make changes and bring about improvements.”

Representatives of the prison did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Acting Chief Immigration Officer Nadia Demming-Hodge declined to comment.