late-night stroll in the moonlight, then a sudden and fatal gunshot. What exactly happened between the socialite partner of the son of a billionaire Tory donor and a senior police officer in the early hours of last Friday in the resort of Mata Rocks has gripped the small Caribbean nation of Belize and turned into an international drama. It is now a major test for the country’s legal and criminal system.
This week a 32-year-old Canadian woman, Jasmine Hartin, was accused of the negligent manslaughter of a local police superintendent, Henry Jemmott. The case has attracted attention because Hartin is the partner of Andrew Ashcroft, son of Michael Ashcroft, the Conservative party donor and Belize’s most influential resident. Lord Ashcroft is a former Tory party deputy chairman, a one-time member of the House of Lords, and a billionaire.
Hartin is currently in Belize’s central jail awaiting a bail hearing next week. According to police, she met Jemmott in Ambergris Caye, Belize’s most northerly point, known for its beaches, coral reef and snorkelling. Hartin had earlier been at a party with Andrew Ashcroft in the town of San Pedro. Afterwards she went for a stroll with Jemmott, who was off duty.
The pair sat together on the end of a pier. Jemmott allegedly showed her his Glock service pistol. When she passed it back to him it accidentally went off, she told police, shooting Jemmott in the back of the head. The officer – a large man, 1.82 metres (6ft) tall, weighing more than 135kg (300lb) – rolled into the sea, dead. Hartin, who said she had been giving him a massage, was found distraught and covered in blood.
She was taken to the San Pedro jail and then transferred on Tuesday to the main prison. Her defence attorney, Godfrey Smith, a former foreign minister of Belize, has applied for bail. Prosecutors have objected, suggesting Hartin is a flight risk. During a hearing on Wednesday the judge in the case, Justice Herbert Lord, expressed his disapproval of the frenzied tabloid coverage. A further hearing is scheduled for 9 June.
Friends and relatives have described Jemmott as a tough and ambitious officer, who made his reputation cleaning up the drug-ridden Southside neighbourhood of Belize City. He was a father of six, a keen drummer and a likely future police commissioner, they said. “My brother loved life. He has a passion for his work. He loved his family as well. My brother loved people,” his sister Marie told 7 News, a local TV station.