By Noah Richler
SPECIAL TO THE DIGBY COURIER
After visits at the prison in Aranjuez where he has been held for three years without trial, Philip Halliday and nine other members of the Destiny Empress crew testified Tuesday in a courtroom in Torrejon de Ardoz, a barren industrial area outside the Spanish capital of Madrid.
Tuesday's was the first of an anticipated four days of judicial proceedings. It is not expected that either Halliday or his crew colleagues will be asked to speak again.
Halliday was the sixth of the defendants to be interrogated. His testimony came after a single police investigator.
The court rigorously challenged the investigator on police procedures in seizing the boat.
The police failed to identify themselves and their actions were so violent that several crew members thought the boat had been boarded by pirates.
Halliday, in a simple dark suit and white collared shirt undone at the neck, sat quietly for most of the morning and then faced questions from the prosecutor, the three judges and several of the ten lawyers collectively defending the crew.
He spoke simply, pithily and well. His testimony was approximately fifteen minutes long and among of the longest of the trial.
This it seems reflects the regard the court held for the clarity of his answers.
Halliday explained that he had signed on to the Empress Destiny for two hundred dollars a day after a friend, the late David Gregory, alerted him to the possibility of work on the boat.
Asked why he would be suitable to help with the boat's passage from Canada to Antigua, Halliday said, "I'd been a fisherman all my life."
Halliday explained he considered the job to be "finished," after the Destiny Empress arrived in Antigua.
Two weeks later he was called in Canada and asked to come down "to help the engineer for a couple of weeks."
After a few days in Antigua, he was ordered off the boat without explanation and told that he and a few of the others " were taking a little vacation before going to Spain."
When the Empress Destiny did get underway, Halliday said that the only person he contacted from the boat was his wife.
He explained that, to his knowledge, the boat "was empty". Although his freedom to walk the boat was "absolute," his duties provided no reason to visit the part of the boat in which the stash of some 1,000 kg of cocaine (with a street value of approximately $600 million) was concealed.
Afterwards, Philip Halliday and other crew members waved to family and friends from the other side of the soundproof glass of a chamber within the courtroom, before being returned to the prison in Aranjuez.
Halliday has the reputation of being universally liked by his Aranjuez prison guards and fellow inmates (some of whom have nicknamed him, 'Dad').
While waving to Sheree and the boys he jokingly stretched the waist of his pants to show the weight he had lost.
He appeared in good spirits, smiling and touching the glass, perhaps reassured in the knowledge that the largest contingent of loved ones who had made the journey to support the accused -- Sheree, his sons Cody and Daren, his wife's best friend Joanne Dunn and his sister-in-law Heather Lefort and her husband Gerard – were there to support him.