Camera footage implicates lodger in Hadfield St guesthouse fire

- cops accused of ignoring evidence

Footage from a security camera is pointing to the involvement of a tenant in the fire that destroyed a guesthouse and damaged the Car Care building in the city last Friday.

But the managers of the guesthouse say they are being denied justice, after the suspect was arrested but later released despite evidence of his involvement in foul play.

Caretaker of the Lot 43 Hadfield Street, Stabroek guesthouse Sunita Johannis and her reputed husband Llewellyn Johnson Atwell told Stabroek News on Wednesday that the suspect had been living at the guesthouse for almost a year.

According to Johannis, she had taken pity on the man, who had nowhere else to go, and she took him in and provided him with food and other items.

In return, she explained, he would help her out at the guesthouse in the evenings. “I would retire to bed and he would take over,” she said.
Johannis noted that on the night of the fire, she retired to bed at around 9 and the man took over. “I don’t know what happened next but I saw the footage with him,” she said.

The incriminating footage originated from a security camera at the Car Care building, which was trained on the guesthouse.

The two buildings were located next to each other and investigations determined that the fire started from the top of the guesthouse and quickly spread to the Car Care building.Car Care proprietor Wilfred Brandford turned the tapes from the night of the fire over to Atwell. “We saw on the footage that he went out round 10:46 and came back round 10:49 with a bag in his hand.

After that, he let in two men in all over black and then two more on bikes and another with a heavy backpack… 15 minutes after the fire start,” an upset Atwell related.

Both Atwell and Johannis said it was strange that the five men were let in. “Normally, we only permit couples [male and female] into the guesthouse… it’s one of the rules and he [the suspect] knows that,” he explained. After the fire, they said, the suspect vanished until Saturday, when he was taken into police custody.

‘They done loose the man’
Atwell visited the Alberttown Police Station on Tuesday and informed officers about the camera footage. The officer-in-charge [name given], he noted, “said they gotta find some way to see it.” Atwell added that the officer did not request a copy of the footage, and has since made no further contact with him about it.

According to Atwell, there is also other evidence pointing to the suspect’s involvement. He said he had reason to believe that the man removed his clothing from the building before the fire. He said that in the footage, the suspect was seen wearing a white t-shirt on the night of the incident, but on Saturday he was wearing clothing he had been seen in prior to the fire.

The couple was also disturbed by the fact that the police are yet to take statements from persons who had been residing at the guesthouse at the time of the fire, “and they done loose the man [the suspect].” One of the residents, Nigel Rodrigues, reported to this newspaper that before the fire, gasoline had begun dripping from above and some even fell on him. “All this evidence the police have and still they loose the man,” Atwell remarked.

There were two previous attempts to set the guesthouse on fire and Atwell said previous complaints to the police at the Alberttown Police Station were ignored. The man explained that three years ago he began receiving threatening phone calls. He believed the caller was a person who had been locked in a legal battle with his family over the property.  He said the man would call and “threaten to kill me and burn down the place,” and so he made reports to the Alberttown Police Station, but there was no effort to follow up the matter.

Meanwhile, Brandford, whose Car Care building was badly damaged by the fire, said he still has not calculated his losses, but “it’s millions and millions lost.” He stated that he is just an “innocent bystander in the whole thing,” while adding that he suffered collateral damage far greater than the target of the attack. As a result, he considered himself the “biggest loser.” He explained that “insurance will come in and give money for the structure, but that doesn’t even cover half of the losses we’ve suffered.”

The employees of Car Care have since moved temporarily to a D’Urban Street location and they are also in operation at the Performance Plus building, on Henry Street.

Meanwhile, Johannis said she and her family still had the other occupants of the guesthouse, who would have suffered losses, in their prayers. “It’s a real sad situation, but we have to thank God for life and let’s hope for the best. Let justice prevail in its own time, ’cause nothing goes unpaid,” she said.

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