The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) has no records of the enlistment of Gregory Smith, the main suspect in the 1980 death of historian and political activist Dr. Walter Rodney.
Testifying at a public hearing before the members of the Commission of Inquiry into Rodney’s death yesterday, GDF Lieutenant Colonel Patrick West, who is now responsible for the army’s records, stated that there was no concerted effort by the army to erase any record of Smith’s enlistment.
Attorney Andrew Pilgrim, who is looking after the interest of Rodney’s wife and children, stated that former Chief of Staff, Major General (rtd) Norman McLean, who headed the army in 1980, had indicated to the commission that 4141 William Gregory Smith was a member of the maritime division of the GDF but deserted. He had stated that the information was relayed to him.
“There is no Gregory Smith,” West, however, said.
The Inquiry was set up to probe the death of Rodney, the co-leader of the WPA, who was killed after an apparent walkie-talkie given to him exploded on June 13, 1980. Smith has long been identified as the person from whom Rodney received the walkie-talkie. The then PNC government has long been accused of orchestrating his death but has continued to deny any responsibility for the killing.
The first witness to testify in the latest round of public hearings being held at the Supreme Court Law Library, West stated that the GDF’s records revealed that a William Smith had enlisted in the army in 1975 and was given the regimental number 4141. But he said there was no Gregory Smith in the army’s records.
However, there were no records of William Smith serving as an active soldier in military after 1979. West said they never found any records showing that he was discharged, absent without leave or deserted. The last evidence of him in the army was recorded in the GDF payment register in June, 1979.
He said when the ledgers were searched a number of Smiths were discovered but none held the name Gregory Smith.
West added that he was open to the possibility that “William” or “Gregory” could have been a middle name, but no personal file was ever found for William.
Chairman of the Commission Sir Richard Cheltenham suggested that it was rare and unusual that the file went missing.
“It’s very rare sir,” West said.
He stated that whenever a file goes missing, a lost report is filed and sent to the Intelligence Unit. However, he stated that in the absence of Smith’s personal file, no report was made.
Yet, when the Commission requested the GDF’s assistance, he said a report was made to the Intelligence Unit.
He suggested that Smith’s record may have been destroyed in the 2005 flood, while indicating that a number of records were destroyed during that time. He also suggested that the file could have deteriorated.
West further stated that there was no record that the Chief of Staff at that time had requested the file. He said the Chief of Staff had the authority to request the removal of the file but before it is removed it would be documented in a ledger.
Attorney Christopher Ram, who is representing the interest of the WPA, argued that if there was an unauthorised disposal of the file, people would only know if an investigation was carried out.
But West maintained that the file could not have been removed without being accounted for.
What if the Chief himself removed the file?” posited Sir Richard.
“The only way he could have is if he did it himself and after hours,” West answered. Attorney Keith Scotland, suggested to West that if he could say he did not know of William Gregory Smith being active in the army in 1980, then he was aware of someone by that name. “Do you know of any other official army document that may have Williams Gregory Smith?” he asked.
“There is no Gregory Smith,” West, however, repeated while glancing around the room.
“Don’t look at (attorney) Mr. (Basil) Williams! He can’t help you,” Scotland thundered, before repeating his question.
“Probably,” West said.
“Since he was implicated under questionable circumstances wouldn’t the preservation of his personal file been a priority?” Scotland asked. “Don’t get nervous, now.”
“Probably”, West said.