TRINIDAD – Bank wins lawsuit
PORT OF SPAIN –– State-owned First Citizens Bank has won an unprecedented lawsuit in the High Court against Sentinel Security Services Ltd for $7 million, the money stolen from an unarmoured van in a robbery in which a security guard was killed in two years ago.
On November 27, 2013, gunmen shot dead Sentinel Security guard Bert Clarke when they ambushed a Sentinel van en route along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway to Piarco International Airport for the millions in cash to be flown to Tobago. The gunmen have never been captured, and the money has never been found.
And now, a few months shy of the anniversary of the deadly heist, Justice Carol Gobin’s judgment in favour of First Citizens and against Sentinel has set a precedent in which pleading that money entrusted to security guards has been stolen in a robbery is not a defence as a matter of strict non-liability.
Therefore, Gobin has ordered Sentinel to compensate First Citizens to the sum of $7.193 million plus the bank’s legal costs.
It is the first time a security firm has been held to be responsible and ordered to pay back money in the charge of its security officers which was stolen in a robbery.
The robbery occurred at about 4 a.m. on November 27, 2013, when a Sentinel van with two guards, was transporting an estimated $7.193 million in Trinidad and Tobago currency and US$30,000. A SUV slammed into the Sentinel van, in the vicinity of Johnson’s & Johnson’s, bringing the van to a stop. Gunmen got out of the SUV and began firing at the Sentinel van in which Clarke, 59, an estate superintendent, was shot dead. The second guard who was driving ran across the highway, surviving the attack unhurt, but the gunmen made off with the loot.
Since then, First Citizens initiated action to recover the stolen money from Sentinel, writing the company and requesting what it described as requisition of the $7.193 million which belonged to the bank.
In a lawsuit, the bank claimed Sentinel guards collected $7,193,995 from its cash management centre in Chaguanas to be taken to the airport to be flown to Tobago, then for delivery to its branches.
In documents filed in San Fernando High Court, senior civil attorney Prakash Deonarine, representing First Citizens, contended the bank’s money was packaged in sealed green canvas bags.
Deonarine submitted that the agreement between the bank and Sentinel was that in the event of a loss of shipment, or carriage of goods by the security firm, liability shall be limited to an amount not exceeding $10 million. And, the agreement stated the security company shall insure the shipment with a reputable insurer to cover liability.
Deonarine further contended Sentinel shall be held liable for the performance of its employees or agents, in the due execution of its obligations under the contract.
First Citizens added that the security company had been transporting money for its branches for 20 years.
In its defence, Sentinel acknowledged it was transporting the money but argued that there was a robbery in transit to Piarco.
And, because of that robbery in which one of its officers, Clarke, was killed, the security company could not be deemed to have deprived the bank of possession of the
Gobin stated that upon reading First Citizens’ lawsuit claim, and its notice of application, and upon hearing Deonarine’s legal submission, she made the order. Deonarine’s application was filed to strike out Sentinel’s defence that a robbery occurred, and on that basis, the security company did not deprive the bank of the money.
However, the judge ordered that there be judgment for First Citizens against Sentinel for $7,193,995, plus interest in the sum of $487,093.75 up to October, 2014.
The judge stated that interest was accruing daily at a rate of $1,498.75.
Sentinel was also ordered by the judge to pay the bank’s legal cost of $156,501.96.