It began last August as a routine burglary investigation. But recently the case of a $60,000 emerald and diamond ring missing from the Vancouver home of John Fairburn, a retired lumber executive, has exploded into a hot controversy over police practices—and a charge of police corruption. In late September Vancouver police received a complaint from Fairburn that Const. Clarke Winterton — who had conducted the initial investigation-had allegedly received $6,000 from the family for the ring’s return. The police launched an inquiry, and in late October the $6,000 was returned, Winterton resigned and Vancouver police chief Robert Stewart declared the matter closed. But Fairburn said that he was not satisfied. He demanded that the case be reopened, and last month provincial Attorney General Brian Smith began his own investigation into the matter. Last week Smith’s office charged Winterton, 31, with theft, possession of stolen property and corruptly taking a reward for recovering goods.
Fairburn and his wife, Leone, say that on the evening of Aug. 22 they told Winterton that $1,120 in cash and a box containing several tie studs had been stolen from their home. But the next morning, the Fairburns say, they discovered that John’s ring was also
The constable visited the family and allegedly suggested that a missing ring might be recovered through a newspaper ad
missing. According to Fairburn, Winterton later visited the family and advised them that the ring might be recovered through a newspaper ad.
The Fairburns left for a vacation in Europe on Aug. 26 and asked their son, Gregory, 37, and daughter, Jane, 30, to handle the matter. Gregory, who placed an ad in The Vancouver' Sun, said in a newspaper interview that
Winterton had told his sister Jane that the ring could be purchased from an informer for $6,000. At Winterton’s instigation, Jane Fairburn accompanied the constable to the Pacific Centre, a downtown Vancouver shopping mall, on Sept. 10. According to Jane, Winterton vanished into a crowd with the money, then returned 20 minutes later with the ring. But when John Fairburn returned from Europe on Sept. 24, he telephoned the police commission and asked if this recovery method was normal police procedure. He said that he was told it was not. Indeed, the Vancouver police prepared a report for the senior regional Crown counsel, Robert Wright—who decided that there was not enough evidence to proceed. “It was not a police coverup,” Smith told a news conference last week. But, he added, “there must be better procedures for investigating police.”
As a result, Smith said, major changes will be made to British Columbia’s Police Act in order to establish an independent citizens’ committee to investigate complaints from individuals who say that they have been wrongly treated by police. It will be the legacy of one man’s perseverance in seeking redress for the disappearance of a prized ring.
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