The police were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence at the close of the Lindo Creek massacre case to determine with certainty those who were responsible for killing the eight miners, retired police commissioner Seelall Persaud testified yesterday.
Persaud, who had been the Crime Chief in 2008 when the massacre occurred, took the stand before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the massacre and stated that the force was satisfied enough to follow the directions of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to no longer pursue police action on the case.
CoI Chairman Justice (rtd) Donald Trotman enquired as to whether any efforts were made to have a Coroner’s Inquest performed, to which Persaud stated that those are only done in cases where the cause of death of the individual is unknown, and that advice is usually passed by the DPP.
“I see it different in this case because the evidence collected would have shown with some amount of certainty who were responsible,” he stated.
“As Crime Chief, given the fact that the perpetrators that the investigation identified had all been killed except for one who had been cooperating with prosecutions on several other matters and given…we were comfortable with that,” Persaud said.
“You were comfortable with the advice of the DPP that the matter should be closed without any further action, including prosecution?” Trotman questioned, to which Persaud answered “yes.”
It has long been speculated by family members of the deceased that the Joint Services were responsible for the killing of the eight miners at Lindo Creek, although the police had reported that the ‘Fine Man’ gang had been behind the June, 2008 attack.
Asked if he had heard allegations of the Joint Services being involved, Persaud related that owner of the mining camp Leonard Arokium had gone to the press claiming such. He said that he was instructed to join a team which included Prime Minister Samuel Hinds to meet with Arokium. An interview was reportedly done and the man’s statement was taken.
When asked if anyone from the police force was contacted based on the allegations, Persaud said that the next day, he was informed that the matter had been handed over to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and so he was not privy to information coming out of the investigations after that. While he noted that he had ranks that worked along on the investigation, he clarified that it was the then head of the OPR that they reported to.
He further stated that months after the June killings, he was directed by then Police Commissioner Henry Greene to facilitate the completion of the matter, but he said that all statements had already been collected at that point.
He clarified that his ranks were not at Lindo Creek, but had been deployed to Christmas Falls earlier in June 2008 for an operation, where a member of the Fine Man Gang was reportedly killed. He also stated that he was unaware of whether any police force ranks were deployed there during that period.
The bodies of the miners were discovered on June 21st, 2008 by the camp owner, Leonard Arokium. It was previously reported that earlier that month, on June 8th, a team of Joint Services ranks had ventured into Christmas Falls, where a few days prior there had been a confrontation between ranks and members of the Fine Man gang. During that confrontation, one of the gang members, Otis Fifee, call-ed ‘Mud Up,’ was killed.
Persaud related that he was head of the team that was at Christmas Falls when the encounter occurred. The team, he recalled, included six other officers and civilians who were familiar with the area. The land, he later learned, was owned by former treason-accused Philip Bynoe.
The officers named were (now) Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken, Deputy Superintendent Waithwright, Inspector Wade, Inspector Narine, Assistant Super-intendent Lowenfield and Deputy Superintendent Nurse.
Persaud testified that the team arrived at the right bank of Christmas Falls at around 5pm on June 5th and overnighted there. The next day, a team, led by Hicken, crossed the river by boat, and a confrontation occurred between the police and men reported to be a part of the Fine Man gang.
“..Early the following morning, Assistant Police Hicken crossed the river with the boat we took there and shortly after that I heard a series of gunshots…including rapid fire that lasted for a while. And, thereafter, I crossed the river using the same boat,” he recalled.
He said he observed Otis Fifee’s body with a gunshot wound to his face and saw that the ranks had seized nine firearms, including rifles, shotguns, handguns and ammunition.
The instructions to Hicken (which were reportedly the same instructions passed to Persaud from the then Commissioner of Police Greene) was to arrest the men at the camp. However, with the ranks coming under fire while approaching the site, fire was returned.
Persaud said he informed Greene about the encounter and they were instructed to withdraw from the area.
He later learned about the Lindo Creek massacre, which reportedly occurred a few days later and being informed by Greene that a team led by OPR and comprising of members of the Criminal Investigation Department, and ranks from divisions ‘E and F’ would be investigating the matter. He further stated that Superintendent Reid of the Major Crimes unit, (Rtd) Senior Superintendent Thomas and the head of the Crime Lab were instructed to provide assistance to OPR.
The eight miners— Dax Arokium, Cecil Arokium, Clifton Wong, Nigel Torres, Compton Speirs, Bonny Harry, Horace Drakes and Lancelot Lee—were mining for diamonds at the location when they met their gruesome deaths, sometime between June 9th and June 10th. After the miners were slaughtered, their bodies and belongings were burnt.
The CoI is to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the killings of the men and report its findings and recommendations to President David Granger.
The hearings are being held at the Department of the Public Service, on Waterloo Street, Georgetown.
The inquiry has been adjourned until tomorrow at 10 am.
Additionally, on Friday, March 16th, and on March 21st, the commission will be hosting public outreach meetings at the South Ruimveldt Gardens Secondary School and the Meten-Meer-Zorg Community Centre, respectively. Both meetings, which Trotman related are aimed at raising public awareness and facilitating information gathering, including suggestions to the commission, are scheduled to begin at 4pm.