Jones, Westford found guilty of burning health ministry

– sentencing deferred

Colin Jones and Clayton Westford were yesterday found guilty of the 2009 burning of the Ministry of Health’s building on Brickdam.

The ruling was handed down by Magistrate Judy Latchman at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court. Sentencing has been deferred to June 27.

Colin Jones
Colin Jones

Magistrate Latchman informed the court that the matter was being adjourned in order to facilitate the presence of former minister of health Dr Leslie Ramsammy or any other representative of the ministry, in a capacity to inform the court of the value of all losses.

The defendants were also informed that the adjourned date is an opportunity for them to produce possible character witnesses.

Additionally, Attorney Michael Somersall, who is representing Westford, was told that he can advance mitigating circumstances for his client on that day as well.

The prosecution on the other hand was ordered to ascertain antecedents against Jones who is unrepresented by counsel.

Westford, who wept bitterly when the ruling was handed down, had walked into court a free man for yesterday’s hearing. After the court found him guilty, he was informed by the presiding magistrate that he would be remanded to prison.

Meanwhile, Jones who sat in the dock appeared expressionless when the ruling was handed down.

As police officers were handcuffing a sobbing Westford to escort him out of the courtroom, sombre relatives were heard giving him words of comfort. “Don’t fight up, take it easy we are here for you all the way,” one relative said.

Prosecutor Vishnu Hunt, in final submissions to the court, contended that the court should find the defendants guilty of the offence for which they were charged.  He argued that the prosecution had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and while the defence had nothing to prove, it failed to create doubt which would cause the court to think “one way or the other”.

Challenging Somersall’s previous contention that no one saw the defendants committing the act on the day in question, Hunt argued that both the oral and caution statements of Jones and Westford respectively, detailed their involvement and both were given voluntarily.

Clayton Westford
Clayton Westford

When asked if he wanted to make final submissions before the ruling, Jones said he was innocent; that he had never given any statement in the matter and asked that the court attach weight to his story.

He also emphasised to the magistrate: “If there is any doubt, any doubt at all; it should go to the defendant.”

Meanwhile, Somersall declined when the same opportunity was given him.

In handing down sentence, Magistrate Latchman said that the court; beyond reasonable doubt had found that both defendants committed the offence and at all material times their intention was to so do.

The charge was that between July 16 and 17, 2009 at Brickdam, they unlawfully and maliciously set fire to the Ministry of Health’s building.

The huge fire had been sparked by ‘channa bombs’ and completely destroyed the ministry’s main building and an annex at Brickdam in the wee hours of July 17 2009, devouring decades of records, vehicles and a string of key divisions in a major blow to the health sector.

The conflagration levelled the offices of two ministers, permanent secretary, chief medical officer and administrative staff, the Registry, Disease Control Unit, Adolescent Health Unit, Tobacco Control Unit, Standards Department and a section of the Accounts Department.

On July 27, 2009 Jones was charged with setting the ministry’s building on fire but had escaped and was later recaptured.