It is like something ripped from the opening pages of a whodunit. On a tropical moonlit night, a shot rang out. A security guard from a nearby hotel raced to the scene, and found, standing on a pier, a beautiful young woman, the partner of a British billionaire’s son, hysterical and covered in blood. The authorities were called, and they soon found, in the waters beneath her, the body of a beloved police superintendent, floating dead from a bullet wound to the back of his head.
This is what happened just past midnight on the Friday before last on the island of Ambergris Caye, in Belize. In truth, however, it isn’t much of a whodunit. The gun, by all accounts, was fired by Jasmine Hartin, 32, whose partner’s father is one of Britain’s wealthiest men. Indeed, Hartin has already been charged with manslaughter by negligence and observers have predicted that she may plead guilty.
But just because we think we know who shot the policeman, nobody has been able to work out exactly how or why. This hole in an otherwise straightforward story has come to grip the world. What was an attractive young woman doing alone with a police officer in the middle of the night, in breach of the coronavirus curfew? And how on earth did he wind up shot with his own pistol?
Hartin’s apparent explanation, as reported by the press, is relatively simple. Hartin, who works as the director of lifestyle and experience for her partner’s luxury resort, is believed to have told police that she had been receiving threats on her life. A local police superintendent named Henry Jemmott—a father of five who was apparently taking time off to address personal issues—suggested that she procure a gun license.
Standing on a pier, a beautiful young woman, the partner of a British billionaire’s son, hysterical and covered in blood.
Jemmott came to visit her at her apartment. According to her alleged statement to the police, they started drinking and decided to go to a nearby pier to enjoy the moon. Jemmott began to complain about an ache in his shoulders, and Hartin responded by giving him a massage. During the massage, he asked Hartin to pass him the gun. She is said to have claimed that the gun accidentally went off, and a bullet hit the back of his skull, fatally wounding him. His body fell onto her. In fright, she pushed him off, and he toppled into the sea.
However, subsequent reporting of the incident makes things a little less cut-and-dried. It has been reported that Hartin initially told police that Jemmott had been shot by someone on a passing boat, before she stopped talking, and that only the threat of a cocaine-possession charge could make her cooperate with the investigation again. She was denied bail because—as a Canadian—she was considered a flight risk.
According to an interview conducted by 7 News Belize with an officer trained by Jemmott, it is difficult to fire a gun like his accidentally. Jemmott’s sister Cherry, also a police officer, compared the shooting to an “assassination,” while speaking with the Daily Mail.
Hartin hasn’t exactly enjoyed first-class treatment following her arrest. She is currently being detained in a cartoonishly squalid jail. Belize’s Central Prison is so awful that it once featured on the Netflix documentary series World’s Toughest Prisons. What’s more, two years ago an inmate sued, alleging that he’d been kept in a cell with a convicted murderer who made him fear for his life and safety, and complaining of the prison’s conditions, citing a lack of sunlight and bedding, and an infestation of scorpions and tarantulas and literal piles of human feces, according to The Times of London. If that wasn’t bad enough, Hartin was reportedly taken to the mainland on a boat with the name SEAductress.
Nevertheless, the expectation is that Hartin will emerge from this incident largely unscathed. The charge of manslaughter by negligence rarely results in a prison sentence. Instead, it may amount to a fine of less than $20,000. Also working in her favor is the appointment of Godfrey Smith, Belize’s former attorney general, as one of her lawyers.
Such is the benefit of having a billionaire in the family. Hartin’s partner is Andrew Ashcroft, whose father is Lord Michael Ashcroft. Lord Ashcroft was born in the U.K. but has sheltered his wealth in Belize for years, yet that hasn’t stopped him from meddling with politics in his birth country. In the U.K., he has pumped millions of pounds into the Conservative Party and shown a surprising amount of spite when things don’t go his way. Following a “personal beef” with David Cameron, for instance, he wrote a book that claimed Cameron had once inserted “a private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig’s mouth. (Cameron denied the accusations made in the book.)
However, the influence he wields in Belize is even greater. Ashcroft has reportedly owned a bank, television station, and shipping registries in the country. More than a decade ago, Belize’s prime minister, Dean Barrow, reportedly told his Parliament that “Ashcroft is an extremely powerful man. His net worth may well be equal to Belize’s entire G.D.P. He is nobody to cross.” (At the time, Ashcroft, speaking to The Guardian, denied Barrow’s claim that he had “subjugated an entire nation.”)
Needless to say, Ashcroft is also incredibly friendly with the police. In February, for example, he donated a fully equipped gym to the country’s police department, but the police commissioner, Chester Williams, has repeatedly stressed that Hartin will not receive special treatment. When Williams was asked about the gym last week, he said, “It was Mr. Ashcroft who donated a gym to us, not Jasmine,” according to the Daily Mail. “Mr. Ashcroft has done nothing wrong.”
She is currently being detained in a cartoonishly squalid jail.
Increasingly, there is a sense that the people of Belize won’t swallow the “manslaughter by negligence” line. Another of Jemmott’s sisters has already expressed disappointment with the police, saying she hoped that Hartin would be tried for murder. A friend of Jemmott’s, who had been fishing with him on the day of his death, expressed surprise that he’d taken time off because of personal issues, telling 7 News Belize, “He said that everybody was doing good.”
It may be the case that only Hartin and Jemmott know exactly what happened by the sea that night. And, with connections like hers, there’s a good chance that this is how it will stay.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL