Three years on, sacked prison officer acquitted

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 15 November 2019, 8:25PM

A sacked prisons officer accused of stealing boxes of herring from the then Tafaigata prison has been cleared of the allegations, some three years after her service was terminated. 

Hilda Moelasi Saunoa of Salelologa and Tulaele, was yesterday found not guilty for a charge of theft as a servant at the time she worked with the Samoa Prisons and Corrections Services.

Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke handed down the decision saying the charge against the accused was frankly bereft of any common sense.

“It was fundamentally an employment issue that should not have been prosecuted through the criminal Courts and an ordeal that she should not have been put through in the circumstances of this case,” said the Supreme Court Judge.

“It was also in the end also not supported by the evidence for the reasons that I have set out.

“It is regrettable for you, Hilda, that you have had this prosecution hanging over your head for almost three years and that you have been put through this lengthy court process.”

In an interview after the Court’s decision, Mrs. Saunoa, a mother-of-ten said the truth prevails.

While she expressed disappointment at her services being terminated before the Court could rule in her case, she is hoping her former employer will rehire her.

“From 2016 to date God has shown me love and mercy despite the humiliation of allegations against me,” said the 40-year-old.

“I am very happy there has been some finality to this matter. I was terminated before my case was dealt with the Court and I will go back to the Office of the Ombudsman on my matter.”

The widow is currently unemployed and facing the task of supporting her 10 children.

According to the evidence before the Court around October 2016, the accused, together with Corrections Officer Alisa Pitovao took from Tafaigata Prison five boxes of tin fish to Frankies Super Market, Vaitele.

There, she sold the boxes of tinned fish and returned to the Prison with ice cream, biscuits and tang.

These items were then given to the female prisoners for their Sports Day.

“There is no suggestion on the evidence that the accused kept the goods or personally benefited from her actions,” said Justice Leiataualesa.

The Judge raised the question whether or not the five boxes of tin fish taken by Mrs. Saunoa was the property of the S.P.C.S.

“In his evidence, the Commissioner of Prisons could not say what type of tin fish the accused is said to have sold.

“Importantly, there was no inventory record showing that the boxes of tin fish sold by the accused belonged to the S.P.C.S.

“Indeed, the prosecution case was wholly devoid of any inventory records to prove the ownership of the tinned fish sold by the accused and indeed, the Commissioner himself was not certain that such inventory records themselves were kept or existed, only that they should.”

Justice Leiataualesa explained the inventory records, if any, appear to have been very loose.

“I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the cases of tin fish sold by the accused to Frankies Supermarket belonged to the S.P.C.S.,” he ruled.

Mrs. Saunoa in her evidence said the tinned fish belonged to the prisoners’ from their families.

“The tin fish she sold belonged to certain prisoners who asked for them to be sold for the vai malu (afternoon snack) for the sports day,” said Justice Leiataualesa.

“Whilst I do not doubt that Ms Stowers [another prisoner] believed the boxes of tinned fish belonged to the S.P.C.S., she is a prisoner who does not have access to or control of the cupboard or the goods stored in the cupboard at the Women’s Prison.

“She also cannot reliably know the source of where the tin fish kept in that cupboard comes from.”

Justice Leiataualesa pointed out the proceeds of the sale of tinned fish were re-applied for the direct benefit of the female prisoner on their sports day.

“The accused was the Principal Corrections Officer for the Women’s Prison,” he said.

“One might say that the treat of ice cream, tang and biscuits for their sports day would have been a welcome treat and a relief from the heat by the female prisoners.”

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 15 November 2019, 8:25PM

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