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Jamaican detained for unpaid hotel bill remains in custody

November 13, 2008
Werner Menges
The Namibian

AN elderly Jamaican citizen who has experienced more than 20 months of detention without charge or trial over a massive unpaid hotel bill is set to face a further wait of more than six months in custody before going on trial in the Windhoek Regional Court.

More than two and a half years after he was first arrested and detained because of an unpaid bill at the Windhoek Country Club Hotel, the 68-year-old Norman Lockland Escoffery was scheduled to have a bail application heard in the Windhoek Regional Court on Tuesday.

Just like with a previous scheduled bail application in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court, this bail hearing also did not proceed, leaving Escoffery with the prospect of remaining locked up until the scheduled starting date of his trial more than seven months from now.

Escoffery's lawyer, Johanna Nghishekwa of the law firm Metcalfe Legal Practitioners, indicated yesterday that it will still be decided whether to proceed with a bail application, and when to do that.

Escoffery was a long-term guest of the Windhoek Country Club Hotel from April 28 2005 until March 1 2006.

While staying there, the hotel allowed him to run up a bill that is alleged to amount to N$472 922.

With Escoffery not paying the bill, the hotel approached the High Court at the end of February 2006 to get an order for Escoffery's arrest.

The arrest was supposed to be in order to establish and confirm the Namibian courts' jurisdiction over Escoffery, who is not a Namibian national and according to the hotel does not own any property in Namibia or have any security for the payment of the debt the hotel claims from him.

Following his arrest, though, Escoffery was detained in prison for more than a year and eight months without being charged or brought before a court.

By November last year, the Legal Assistance Centre filed a case with the High Court to force the Commanding Officer of Windhoek Central Prison to release him from custody.

After that case had been filed, but before it could be heard, Escoffery was then formally arrested on a criminal charge.

He has remained in custody on that charge since then.

Since his arrest on November 22 last year, Escoffery appeared in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court eight times for his case to be postponed and, finally, transferred to the Windhoek Regional Court, where he is set to stand trial.

He pleaded not guilty to a charge of fraud, alternatively theft by false pretences, on October 7.

In those charges Escoffery was accused of having defrauded the hotel to the tune of N$472 922 between April 28 2005 and March 1 2006 by making a misrepresentation that he would settle his account with the hotel, while he in fact knew that he was unable to pay the account.

After Escoffery had given his plea on the charge, the Prosecutor General decided that he should be arraigned in the Regional Court on a charge of fraud, alternatively theft by false pretences.

In the case filed with the High Court before Escoffery was arrested on the criminal charge, Escoffery argued that his detention over an unpaid debt following the earlier arrest had been unlawful and unconstitutional.

The High Court has not yet made a ruling on that issue, which is set to be argued in that court in February next year, LAC Director Norman Tjombe said yesterday.

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