Doctors never offered me a diagnosis, Harding says

– recalls prison officials laughing when he attempted to complain about rape

Colwyn Harding, the young man who has accused the police of a brutal sexual assault which has rendered him immobile, said yesterday that when he was initially taken to the hospital the doctor never provided a diagnosis and he did not ask because he was in too much pain.

Harding said he made his first attempt to explain what had happened to him while he was in the Georgetown Prison, but the officers began laughing at him before he could finish.

The 23-year-old man is still confined to his bed at the Georgetown Public Hospital. When Stabroek News visited yesterday he was surrounded by family members and well-wishers.

Colwyn Harding
Colwyn Harding

Speaking to this newspaper, Harding who said he is feeling “stressed out”, stated that while in prison he didn’t get a chance to tell the prison officials what had happened.

He was allegedly brutalized on November 15 last at a house at Timehri and later taken to the Timehri Police Station where he was beaten.He spent four days there before he was charged and placed before the court. He was taken to the Camp Street Prison since he could not pay the bail. Based on what this newspaper was told he was taken to the prison on November 19 last.

Asked what exactly he told the prison officials, he said he didn’t really get to tell them much because they weren’t listening to him and did not give him a chance to really explain what had happened.

“When I go in prison fus and I told them about the assault, they were making laugh off of me,” he said looking shyly at his hands as he spoke. “I told them I was assaulted by police but them ain’t even wait… I didn’t even get to finish meh statement. They laugh at me,” he stressed.

Asked if he had received any treatment at the prison, he said he wouldn’t say that he ever received any treatment. He said the first time he actually got any treatment was when he was taken to hospital.

When asked if he was told what was wrong with him when he was examined, he said, “they ain’t tell me anything concerning my condition. They told the officer that bring me.” He added that he did not tell the officer anything.

Based on what Harding said, when he visited the hospital (this would have been on December 17), the doctor spoke directly to the prison officer and told him nothing. He said he wasn’t in a position to ask anything since he was in too much pain. He said he was taken for an x-ray and he knew nothing more until he woke up next morning on a bed.

Harding told Stabroek News that the doctor visited him yesterday morning and told him that he will be discharged soon and will have to do another surgery in the next three months. “I ain’t feelin righted to go home like this…,” the man said adding that he did not want to leave the hospital in his present condition.

He said too that the police have taken a statement from him.

Asked if he was satisfied that the police are doing what they are supposed to be doing, he responded, “the police ain’t doing nothing as far as I am concerned and I ain’t got no time with no police right now cause all of dem is one. I am not interested in the police and what they have to say.”

Harding said he gets nightmares at nights and on one occasion he dreamt that it happened to him again. He said he feels safer now that there are people staying with him. Following his expression of fears and an alleged attack by prison officers, a system has been put in place to ensure that there is someone at Harding’s bedside 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile a source close to the force, told this newspaper that it was disappointing that the police commissioner, the divisional commander or any senior police officer had not yet visited Harding in hospital. “This sort of behaviour speaks volumes. Why hasn’t the commissioner gone to see this young man? This is a sign it seems that no one has any interest in this young man,” the source said while pointing out that with each passing day the force’s image is being further destroyed and those at the top seem not to be taking note.

The source said that the first course of action should have seen the police commissioner visit the injured man and assure him that an investigation is underway and that all is being done to get to the bottom of the matter. “Everybody right now just looking to save themselves…Nobody [the police] is looking in this young man’s direction,” the source said.

The source said that while the Minister of Health has stated that the young man was suffering from an incarcerated hernia, “it makes no sense that he [Harding] would go public that the police pushed a baton up his anus. That is embarrassing and as far as I am concerned nobody would want to make that sort of allegation if there was no truth to it. People would often say that the police beat them up; not sodomized them with a baton.”

Doctors have since said that they saw no sign of sexual assault when Harding was taken to the institution, nor did they check for any and while the issue has exploded in the media, they cannot go checking for that unless something was reported to them. The hospital said that Harding never told the institution’s staff about what had occurred.

Director of Medical and Professional Services, Dr Sheik Amir told reporters at a press conference on Friday last that it was possible that the hernia could have developed as a result of continuous hitting to the abdomen. He said it would be difficult to say if the condition could have been aggravated by the insertion of an object into the anus.

Harding’s attorney Nigel Hughes in his latest Facebook post said that the statement of the witness Stephon Phillips was submitted to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) at the Headquarters of the Guyana Police Force last Friday. Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell has tasked the OPR with conducting an investigation.

Hughes said he is awaiting the already requested admission and medical reports from Georgetown Public Hospital so that these can be provided to an independent international medical expert.

Though Harding’s mother said that she had explained the situation to Brumell in a text on December 13 after seeing her son at the hospital, both he and Divisional Commander George Vyphuis said they never knew the severity of the matter until the week of January 5. Vyphuis said he knew of it after Harding’s mother showed him a recording on January 10. Brumell could not recall the exact day he became aware of the incident.

The policeman accused of the rape is under close arrest while several others from that station have been transferred to other locations within the division pending the outcome of the investigation which should be completed by Tuesday.

 Cover up

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) said in a press release yesterday that new revelations of threats against other persons detained in Timerhi at the time of the original beating of Harding suggest that the force “is more engaged in a cover-up than an investigation of the original brutality to Colwyn Harding.”

The release said that the manner in which the original incident has been handled has generated widespread public revulsion towards the Guyana Police Force (GPF) as a whole. It said that such efforts at cover-up, while carried out by lower level ranks, undermine the credibility of the upper echelon of the force. It said that their efforts to defend themselves against charges of negligence and laxity in responding to the original allegations of assault on Harding are not convincing. “Police officers allegedly present when the beatings and sexual assault took place apparently took no responsibility either to stop the assault, nor to assist Harding get prompt medical attention, nor report the incident to higher authority,” the release said.

GHRA stated that the reports of brutality towards Harding at the hospital involving a group of prison officers “extend the perception of supposedly disciplined services being out of control.”

It was noted that when the incident eventually reached the highest level of the force through Harding’s mother, a routine administrative action was adopted, namely a referral to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). “The belated scramble to the effective action was prompted only by interventions from the press on January 10. In other words, extreme physical brutality, an offence which merits years in prison if committed by a civilian – let alone the allegations of sexual assault – were treated as a routine disciplinary incident when involving a police officer,” the human rights organisation said.

Extreme brutality of this nature taking place in rural stations such as Timerhi and Leonora (in the case of the tortured teenager in 2009), the release said points to use of excessive force becoming routine. “In a previous era such excesses were confined to the recesses of Eve Leary, perpetrated with impunity by special squads with psychopathic tendencies and surrounded by secrecy,” it said adding that other than violence having become routine, the other reason for the failure to report, could be the perception that such reports are unwelcome by superiors – both within the GPF and in government circles. The two factors reinforce each other.

“If these tendencies are as widespread as they appear, the state of things internally in the GPF is that of an institution beyond internal reform. Where the vitality and vision for renovation is to come from is unclear, but it seems safe to say it will not be from within the GPF or the party political sphere,” the release added.

It added that while calls for the resignation of the Commissioner of Police and Minister of Home Affairs are understandable, they assume that more competent politicians and serving police officers are available to take their place – which is a large assumption. Moreover, such bodies as the Police Service Commission and – at another level – the Police Association, which should be channels for revitalizing the GPF, are practically moribund.

“A decade ago the opportunity to renovate the GPF as an institution was lost when even the watered-down recommendations produced by the Disciplined Services Commission were kicked into the long grass by Parliament,” the release noted.

It said that the only guarantee of reinvigorating the GPF with standards of integrity and professionalism is greater direct public involvement in decision-making at all levels of public life. “With respect to the GPF, priorities  should not be in Uzi-wielding SWAT teams but, mundane as it may sound, in instilling respect throughout the force for the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners. Without sustained civic pressure this priority will continue to be marginalized. Senior police officials and politicians responsible for law and order should regularly and publicly promote and implement these standards,” it said.

The GHRA added its voice to those calling for the appointment of a respected and independent person to investigate all aspects of this matter and for vigorous implementation of all the recommendations such an investigation might produce.

“The GHRA also calls for sustained public vigilance over any subsequent proceedings, mindful that despite the horror generated by the torture of the teenager in Leonora station, it produced no subsequent convictions,” the release said while recommending that the government assume all costs of medical treatment required for the full recuperation of Harding.

“Equally importantly, the GHRA is calling for a process for renovating the leadership of the GPF in a manner which underlines and ring-fences professionalism from party political interference,” the release added.

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