After what appeared to be an elaborate plot to break out of the Camp Street prison on Sunday, at least four of the men now on the run escaped through the front gate of the facility after overpowering guards.
Their flight to freedom will raise further concerns about security protocols at the prison in the wake of emergencies. More than four days later, the security forces are still trying to find the escapees.
Commissioner of Police Seelall Persaud yesterday said that the joint services are engaged in a number of intelligence-led operations to recapture the six men.
Persaud told a press conference yesterday that their operations are part of their plans for the recapture of the men in keeping with the mandate given to them by the National Security Committee (NSC), which has set out broad objectives, which speak to the security of the prisons and prisoners, including restoring order, and the recapture of those who escaped.
He said that army and police met and prepared their plans, which will be presented to the NSC shortly. “In the interim, we have already embarked on several operations that are consistent with the plans,” he added.
Bartica massacre convict Mark Royden Williams and murder accused Stafrei Alexander, Uree Varswyk and Desmond James, and Cobena Stephens, also known as ‘OJ,’ and accused Trinidadian drug trafficker Cornelius Thomas managed to escape on Sunday after fires were set to the various sections of the Camp Street prison during a breakout.
Williams, Alexander and Varswyk are believed to be the main orchestrators of the jailbreak.
According to Persaud, based on the accounts of taxi driver Matthew Shivtahal, who was reportedly abducted by four of the escapees and was then later released, the men are believed to be somewhere in the East Coast backlands.
Shivtahal had related to this newspaper that after abandoning his car at North Ruimveldt, the men took him to the backlands and later left him at Land of Canaan, East Bank Demerara. After a day of walking, Shivtahal said, he found his way to Annandale, East Coast Demerara.
Persaud said Shivtahal is being treated as a witness as his account is consistent with someone who has never visited the backlands before. “He was pretty accurate with the geography,” he said. He later said that there is no need at present for Shivtahal to be protected.
Persaud said that the other two men are believed to be moving on their own and could be somewhere in Georgetown.
With regards to security along the perimeter of the Camp Street Prison on Sunday, Persaud said it was directed at preventing prisoners from escaping over the wall of the prison and not through the front gate. He said that the prison officers at the front gate were overpowered and five prisoners emerged and headed down Camp Street and abducted Shivtahal and his car. One of them subsequently returned.
“They didn’t even notice persons passing them on Camp Street. That wasn’t their focus and it happened pretty quickly,” he said, before adding that in the circumstances the escapees could have eluded the attention of the ranks at the scene.
Asked if more than one gun was used by the escapees to shoot prison officer Odinga Wickham, who died subsequently, Persaud told reporters that the analysis is incomplete. “I don’t know that we have sufficient information to [say] that. He was shot in the back which suggests that he was shot while running away,” he said, adding that the camera footage in possession of the police shows the escapees with two handguns.
Prisons Director (ag) Gladwyn Samuels, who was present at the briefing, said that there were about 40 staff detailed to work on Sunday but he could not say how many were on duty on since the logbook was destroyed in the fire. He could not say if there was any collusion between the escapees and prison staff but noted that Williams, who was housed in a separate cell in the condemned division, solicited help from fellow inmates to break out.
He added that all the weapons stored in the armory were accounted for. He said that the armory was not breached in any way. He added that there were weapons in the operations room but the records are not there for verification purposes. However, based on checks so far, one weapon was unaccounted for but it is unknown if it is somewhere in the rubble.