Lindo Creek inquiry witnesses could take stand in two weeks

-Justice (rtd) Trotman named as Commissioner

Retired Justice Donald Trotman (right) receiving his instrument of appointment from Minister of State Joseph Harmon. Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan is at left. (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Retired Judge Donald Trotman was yesterday sworn in to head the  Com-mission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2008 Lindo Creek massacre which resulted in the deaths of eight miners and the first witness could take the stand within two weeks’ time.

This CoI is the first of what government has said would be a series of inquiries into the hundreds of killings which occurred during a crime wave beginning in 2002. It is expected to shed some light on the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Cecil Arokium, Dax Arokium, Horace Drakes, Bonny Harry, Lancelot Lee, Compton Speirs, Nigel Torres and Clifton Berry Wong and to identify those responsible.

Trotman, 79, has since revealed that the Commission intends to visit the Lindo Creek camp site in Region 10.

According to the Terms of Reference, the CoI will investigate and make findings of fact on all matters in relation to the killing of the miners on, or, about June 21, 2008 and based on the determination of the above, the CoI will make recommendations on actions to be taken against all persons and/or organizations that are deemed responsible for the deaths of those persons.

The Rules of Procedure include that the Commission must interview all persons, examine available documents and consider the views of all persons deemed relevant in the opinion of the Commissioner; the Commissioner shall render the final report, findings and recommendations to President David Granger on or before the 31st  of April, 2018 or any later date as may be determined by the President. The Commissioner shall have the powers of the High Court to summon witnesses; to examine witnesses under oath; and to call for the production of books and documents. The Commissioner may authorize any person giving evidence or any person who appears to him to have an interest in the subject of the proceedings before him to be represented at such proceedings or in any part thereof.

Trotman took the oath of office before Minister of State Joseph Harmon and Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan during a simple ceremony at the Ministry of the Presidency.

According to Trotman, he anticipates the first hearing to be within two weeks in addition to visits to relevant parts where these events occurred. “It depends on the logistical arrangements we will make. We will know by the end of the week or the middle of next week and then we would want to start hearings”, he said

He made a commitment to uphold the president’s promise of probing, “the truthfulness of things”. He said that the persons who know what occurred at the camp site, have a duty to come forward.  He stressed that the inquiry will be conducted “in the national interest and in the interest of the families…to find the truth is sometimes very difficult… but knowing the truth in circumstances such as this and in other circumstances is of the greatest importance”.

He stressed the independence, integrity and impartiality of the commission. “The two main object of this inquiry is to find the truth (and) to bring healing and closure to the families, relatives and friends and all who require justice to be done in this particular instance”, he stressed.

Meanwhile Harmon in brief comments after the swearing in ceremony said that the CoI is appointed under the direction of the president and under the provisions of the Commission of Inquiries Act.

“We as a government feel that such an inquiry is necessary to determine precisely what happened to our citizens at Lindo Creek”, he said.

He added, “We are fortunate to engage experience, the expertise and wisdom of a gentleman with decades of immersion  in the judicial system and all the knowledge and insights derived from those years. I am confident that the inquiry will be conducted at the highest professional level. The president had promised the nation to investigate fully these deaths and the deaths of all those persons during the period of the troubles”, before adding that Trotman’s swearing in is in keeping with the president’s promise.

He urged all those with information to cooperate with the commission by submitting statements and giving evidence before it. “The government will provide the resources and will do everything possible to support the work of the commission”, he assured.

“More fresh”

Prior to Lindo Creek, there were two other massacres, one at Lusignan and the other at Bartica. Observers have questioned why Lusignan was not probed first or why all three were not done together since they might have been committed by the same set of persons.

Asked about this, Harmon said that in conducting inquiries one has to look at the availability of resources and as such it may be more practical to conduct one at a time.

“You start with one and usually what happens is that the last is more fresh in your minds, the information is much more recent even though it has been a long time and there are players who are likely to be giving evidence. Most of those persons are there”, he said. The three massacres occurred over a period of six months.

According to Harmon, he recently saw a letter penned by the mother of one of the deceased, asking for something to be done. “The Commission will have the benefit of researchers…and we also have at the level of the government persons who are researching all of these different massacres that took place…At the appropriate time we may do the others based on what information is available and the availability of resources”, he said.

He assured that Trotman has full access to records and has the powers of a High Court judge to summon witnesses, documents and anything in his opinion that can assist him in carrying out the responsibilities assigned to him under this commission.

Harmon was unable to say how much the inquiry will cost but stressed that “there is provisions made in our budget for inquiries and we will not spares expenses to ensure that the commissioner gets his work done. Where he has to go what has to be done…”.

Closer to peace

Jackie Arokium, the mother of Dax Arokium who resides abroad, told Stabroek News that the news of the inquiry has aroused her emotions.

“It’s such a relief that our request has been granted to reopen this unsolved massacre of my son and his crew. The journey of grief and unanswered questions that continue to plague us is not easy… Now, I hope I can truly say there is a light at the end of the tunnel”, she said.

Jackie expressed the hope that a thorough investigation will be done and that those who committed the heinous crime will be brought to justice. “I will never have my son back, but I know for sure Dax will rest in peace and my family will have closer”, she said.

Yonette Torres who lost her then 17 year old son Nigel Torres was also overcome with emotion.

“We just want to know why my son die like that…I am happy that they bring back the case again. Since my son die something is missing in the home and we can’t ketch we self-till now”, she said by phone from her home in Region Ten.

The woman said that while she would like to be present for the hearing, this may be impossible as she is unemployed. “I cannot afford to come to town… I don’t have any money” she said. The family was heavily dependent on Torres before he died. Since his death the family has been struggling to make ends meets.

She remains convinced that the murders did not occur at the hands of `Fineman’ and his gang. “There are people out there with information but they are not going to come forward. They are afraid. People frighten people still”, she said while noting that the consistencies of the various account are hard to ignore. She said that those in the former government have vital information and should make it public so that she and the other families could have closure.

Burnt human bones and skulls had been discovered on June 21, 2008 by Leonard Arokium, owner of the Lindo Creek mining camp. DNA tests done in Jamaica several years later confirmed that the remains had belonged the miners, inclusive of his son and his brother. The men were mining for diamonds at the location when they met their gruesome deaths. After the miners were slaughtered their bodies and belongings were burnt. They had reportedly had a ‘wash down’ (large find) yet there was no trace of any diamonds.

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