Rights activists protest dismissal of charges in Colwyn Harding assault case

–call for baton rape charge to be instituted

About ten women gathered outside the Appeal Court in Kingston yesterday with placards, picketing against the recent dismissal of a charge against the two police constables accused of assaulting Colwyn Harding.

Police Constables Devin Singh and Roselle Tilbury-Douglas were jointly charged with assaulting Harding between November 1st and November 13th, 2013, at the Timheri Police Station. However, the charge was dismissed by Magistrate Leron Daly at the Providence Magistrate’s Court owing to insufficient evidence.

Danuta Radzik, a human rights activist on the picket line, said yesterday that they were picketing because they failed to understand how such a serious charge against two police constables, where Harding almost lost his life, was dismissed so easily.

A section of the picket outside the Appeal Court.
A section of the picket outside the Appeal Court.

“How can such a serious charge be dismissed just for delays in court we cannot understand,” she said, stating that the dismissal raises questions about the type of justice system the country is allowing. “…And it is very unfortunate because that trial took about three years. There were delays both by the defence and by the special prosecutor but still that does not matter. The court has to be able to distinguish between court officials, who can be lawyers who might be delaying cases and the rights of complainants to have fair trials,” she stated, while proclaiming that Harding was denied justice.

“When the magistrate dismissed the case, the prosecutor had not even finished presenting his case and Harding was being cross-examined by the defence lawyers so they weren’t even half way through to have it dismissed just because of delays,” Radzik explained, while stating that the court process reeks of injustice and there is something “very wrong” with the way the system works.

She explained that added to the swift and unjust dismissal of the case, another reason why they were on the picket line was because the police never charged Singh with rape. “Harding had made a statement and he outlined very clearly that he was raped – baton raped – … and the people have never charged Constable Singh with rape,” she said. She pointed out that according to the revised Sexual Offences Act, if an instrument is used to penetrate the sexual organs of someone without their consent then it constitutes rape.

“So we have also asked the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], well the mother asked and we support her on that, to institute the charge of rape. You know he almost lost his life and if it wasn’t for the support group, right now he would be dead,” she added, while emphasising that justice needs to be served.

Harding’s mother, Sharon Harding, who was also on the picket line, stated that it was unfair for the court to have dismissed the case so easily and she pleaded for justice. “Colwyn did not even know about it until the morning so the date had not been set in court. Maybe the lawyers knew it and so on, so of course he was late and he had not been notified in good time of the hearing,” she said. “…And that is another issue that the magistrate should’ve taken account of, but regardless that does not mean dismissing the case,” she added.

‘Insufficient’

“We view it as bad and never mind they saying that the prosecutor was absent a lot of times and also Colwyn. We all know the prosecutor is a special prosecutor and is also a lawyer and has other cases pending,” another social and human rights activist said, while stating that the reasons given for the case being dismissed were insufficient. “He wasn’t even finished giving his evidence so how can you say there was insufficient evidence in the first place?” she reasoned.

When the matter was called for a hearing on March 29, an application was made by defence attorneys Leslie Sobers and Glenn Hanoman for the charge to be dismissed on the ground that the court’s time was being wasted. Harding, who was scheduled to continue his testimony, had been absent on two consecutive occasions without any excuses prior to the hearing and had turned up to court just after the charges were dismissed.

Sobers represented Tilbury-Douglas, while Singh was represented by Hanoman. The matter was prosecuted by special prosecutor Nigel Hughes.

When the matter was called on the day, Hughes was absent but another attorney appeared on his behalf. However, the prosecution was called upon to close the case and the matter was subsequently dismissed. The severity of Harding’s injuries, which resulted in him being hospitalised for an intestinal hernia and undergoing multiple surgeries, had sparked public outcry, which led to a formal investigation and the laying of charges against Singh and Tilbury-Douglas.

Harding, in testimony during the trial, had recounted the baton assault on him during his arrest in a house at Timehri.

Harding told the court that he was handcuffed and thrown against the wall by Singh, who allegedly pummelled him about his body for about 15 minutes. He testified that while Singh was beating him, there was a member of the Community Policing Group (CPG) present.

Singh, he had said, later collected an 18-inch long baton from the rank. “He started lashing me with the baton on my hands and feet and then in my head and I get black out,” Harding said. He said when he regained consciousness, he was on the ground in the bathroom and Singh was pouring a bucket of water on him.

“He asked me to stand up and I told him that I can’t and he picked me up and took me outside back to the kitchen,” he said. Once there, Harding said, he threatened Singh. “I told him that, ‘You see how you cruel me? When I come out, I gon’ look for you.’ And then he said, ‘Oh, you want to look for me? I’ll give you something to look for,’” Harding added, while recounting that Singh started to beat him with the baton again.

“After the third lash, I get hazy and I tried to pull back and end up bracing the wall and he stamped me with his right foot straight to my chest and continued hitting me with the baton. After a while, I had no choice and I start to cry and tried to pull down to the ground and while I try going down I get another lash in my head and I fainted away again,” he said.

Harding added that he regained consciousness for the second time in the bathroom, where Singh was again throwing water on him. Singh, he said, then asked the member of the Community Policing Group (CPG) to pick him up and carry him to the bedroom.

Harding said he was then forced to remove his underwear.

According to Harding, Singh then took out his cellular phone and handed it to the CPG member and told him, “Watch what we does do to bad boys. Video this.”

He said Singh collected the baton again, fitted it with a condom and then told him to lie on the bed. “I ask what he going to do with that and I argue and said I will talk and get you jail and he didn’t respond. We had an argument and then he start to lash me with the baton and I get lash to my head and all I remember is falling to the bed and I passed out again,” he added.

Harding said when he regained consciousness for the third time, he was greeted with the sight of blood on the mattress and pain in his anus.

“I was in a lot of pain about my body and my ass and when I look up I see the [CPG member] with a phone with its lights on pointing at me and Constable Singh was at the door,” Harding recounted. He said he lay on the bed for about 30 minutes until all the other officers came back inside.

“A short one in casual clothes came in the room and I hear he seh ‘Me ain’t deh in this one’ and walked out back,” Harding added.

Harding had also alleged that he was beaten several times at the Timehri Police Station, where he was subsequently held in the lock-ups. Tilbury-Douglas, he had testified, hit him with a baton for approximately ten minutes in one instance.

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