Winnipeg police to review arson interrogation

The Winnipeg Police Service is investigating its interrogation techniques after a judge called them into question and tossed out the charges against an arson suspect.

The Winnipeg Police Service is investigating its interrogation techniques after a judge called them into question and tossed out the charges against an arson suspect.

Manitoba provincial court Judge Timothy Preston stayed the charges against Thane Rowntree on Monday, questioning the methods used by two veteran police officers to secure a confession, including depriving the suspect of sleep, food and insulin medication for his diabetes.

Rowntree was charged with two counts of arson in connection to a west end fire in June 2006, which destroyed the Thistle Curling Club and damaged nearby homes.

Police service spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput told CBC News there would be an investigation into the allegations.

"There is nothing I can comment to you directly on this matter specifically, but based on the allegations made by the justice official, it's certain that the professional standards unit will be investigating this," she said.

The court heard that the 23-year-old Rowntree was taken to Winnipeg's public safety building for questioning, where he was denied food, sleep and medication for 10 hours, despite telling the officers he was diabetic and needed his needles for an injection. When he was not being questioned, he was blasted with loud rock music.

"When I consider the entire videotaped interrogation of Mr. Rowntree, I conclude that the community would be shocked to see a young man effectively deprived of any rest throughout the night due to incessant questioning and incessant loud music," Preston said.

Confession came after break in video

Rowntree denied setting the fire more than 100 times during the first six hours of his videotaped interrogation. After a 32-minute gap in the video, caused by a fire alarm, he confessed.

Preston said the break in the video raised reasonable doubt about the sincerity of the confession.

Roberta Campbell of the Criminal Defence Layers Association expressed dismay over the interrogation tactics.

"I can't imagine why you would continue to interrogate or interview somebody when they have a health need that's been identified, that needs to be addressed, and to put somebody off on the promise that it will come, I think it's atrocious," she said.

Mother says investigation not needed

In an exclusive letter to CBC News, Rowntree's mother said that she believed the police did not act appropriately, but did not think an investigation was necessary.

"I believe that the police were wrong in how they handled things, but I don't believe that they need to be investigated," she wrote. "I have my beautiful son back … I'm just so happy that it's all over and the truth prevailed."

The Winnipeg police must now reopen their investigation into the fire.