The recovery team that retrieved the remains of the eight miners slain at Lindo Creek in 2008 found a skull with an injury that appeared to have been inflicted by a sledge hammer also found at the scene, the brother of deceased miner Clifton Wong testified yesterday.
Courtney Wong is the second witness to give a public account of the journey to the campsite to the Commission of Inquiry, following testimony by Detective Sergeant Clensford Burnett, who related traveling with a team of Joint Services officers to the area following the discovery of the bodies.
The witness told the commission yesterday that he had been asked by Leonard Arokium, the owner of the campsite, to lead the team to the area.
Both Wong and Burnett had testified to traveling there on June 21, 2008, however, Wong had stated specifically yesterday that it had been 6 am on Sunday morning when he left for Lindo Creek. He had also testified that Arokium had called him on June 21st to inform him of the killings. It is therefore likely the recovery team traveled to the mining site on Sunday, June 22nd, 2008.
In his place
Wong testified that he last saw his brother in June, 2008, two days before he left for Lindo Creek.
According to the witness, when Clifton left to work at the Lindo Creek mining site in June, 2008, he was filling in for him [Courtney].
Wong related to the commission that he had been the Arokiums’ designated mechanic for the operations, however, he could not make the trip because of his workload at the time.
The man stated that he had traveled to Lindo Creek about five times, and the longest time spent at the mining camp was a week.
On the 21st of that month, Courtney said he received a call from Arokium informing him that something “serious” had happened at the camp.
“On the 21st, Mr Arokium call me and tell me that something serious happen, that they shoot and kill and bun up all the boys. You know, I know how he speaks fast and so, I seh, ‘Man, wah you saying?’ He seh, ‘Man, I tell yuh, they kill all them boys man, they kill all them boys,”” he recalled.
He said he did not press the issue, but instead visited Arokium’s son’s residence to get a better understanding of the story. Later on, the senior Arokium would call him again and relate that he had gotten a visit from the Commis-sioner of Police, Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, who tried to convince him that the ‘Fine Man’ gang had been behind the massacre.
“…He said he blatantly told them that he doesn’t believe in that…,” Wong stated. However, Arokium reportedly asked him to accompany a team to Lindo Creek, which he agreed to do.
He recalled being picked up around 6 am on Sunday by a police officer, following which he said government pathologist Dr Nehaul Singh was picked up. They went to Ogle, flew to Timehri, and then to Kwakwani, from where he said, he, Singh and the pilot flew to UNAMCO road, where they awaited the arrival of the rest of the team.
It should be noted that this was the first time the commission was hearing that Dr Singh was present along with the team that went to Lindo Creek that day.
Wong had earlier related to the commission that there is a gate along UNAMCO road where vehicles are required to stop and be checked, and a toll paid. After clearing the gate, you would reportedly have to travel for another 45 minutes before reaching the entrance of the trail to Lindo Creek.
Wong recalled that on the day he traveled with the Joint Services team, there was a heavy army presence at the gate.
The Arokiums’ camp, according to the witness, used to be located at the bottom of the hill, but on the last occasion that he traveled there, they had taken the engine to the hill’s top.
He recalled that the journey was “physically challenging”, and when they arrived at the old camp, they rested, and when the rest of the team moved on, the more senior officers stayed behind. Dr Singh also reportedly stayed behind on Wong’s recommendation, sending his team members ahead.
They continued on the journey, and the witness recollected seeing a tarpaulin even before getting to the site. He said they walked through the kitchen, which was ransacked, with rice, flour, potatoes, etc., scattered everywhere. They then proceeded to the living quarters, which he noted was uncovered.
“The first thing I observed: no tarpaulin. Secondly, no hammock, no clothes, no nothing. Deserted,” he recalled. “We keep walking alongside the camp, that’s where we discover a pile, a heap, with some bones,” he added.
It was located at the end of the sleeping area, he said, and appeared to be packed in a pile from the way the bones were arranged.
Wong related that a police officer directed them to form a line to comb the area, but noted that during the exercise, no spent shells were found. However, later on, when everyone had dispersed and were engaged in their respective tasks, another officer would reportedly discover three spent shells at the scene.
At the time, Wong said he had been with Singh’s team sorting out the remains.
“…In sorting out the remains, we realised that we have to move them from there and place them somewhere else. So, we went to the kitchen and we took off the tarpaulin from the kitchen…And we fold the tarpaulin in half and put it next to the remains. And we started to take out shoulder bones, discs, you know—all the big bones that remained, that the fire could not have burnt to ash. They had skulls that was totally burnt to an extent where a next two minutes it would start crumbling. That’s where we found a skull with a hole,” the witness recalled.
Wong stated that nearby they found two hammers, and when checked, one of the hammers fit snugly into the hole of the skull.
“…Whilst that process was going on, a police said “look ah find a spent shell”…we went across. He picked up a spent shell, put it in a bag…everybody gone back to their normal thing. Two minutes after, “Look ah find another one!” One person finding everything,” Wong added, with a hint of skepticism in his voice.
“…Three spent shell we found—he said he found,” Wong stated.
“The same police?” attorney for the commission Patrice Henry asked.
“The same police, no other police ain’t find nothing,” the witness returned.
“And this is the same area that was already combed?” Henry pressed.
In Burnett’s testimony, he recalled the search team also finding a 7.62×35 calibre round and four 7.62x 39 spent shells, along with a sledgehammer, a Scotia Bank book, a battery operated watch, a birth certificate bearing the name “Barry Lloyd Patrick Harry,” a burnt passport, and a national identification card.
Wong also mentioned a passport and other documents being among the items found.
The witness added that he checked the engine at the camp and found a full pail of fuel, which is usually left by the workmen in anticipation of the next day’s work. He related that before work begins in the morning, the men would usually load 5 gallon pails downhill and fetch it up to the camp, but he noted that he found no excess containers of fuel.
Meanwhile, Wong’s testimony had to be stopped after his niece, one of Clifton Wong’s daughters, fainted during the hearing.
The young woman was rushed to the hospital to receive medical attention while still in an unconscious state.
Her mother, Colette Wong, and sister, Sheneza Romain, also testified before the commission yesterday. They both related that Clifton had promised to send money for Sheneza’s birthday, celebrated on June 13th, but other than a phone call to his wife while at the stop at Kwakwani, before heading in to Lindo Creek, they never heard from him again.
Burnt human bones and skulls had been discovered on June 21st, 2008 by Leonard Arokium. DNA tests done in Jamaica several years later confirmed that the remains had belonged to his son Dax Arokium, his brother Cedric Arokium and workers Wong, Compton Speirs, Horace Drakes, Lancelot Lee, Bonny Harry and Nigel Torres.
The eight men were mining for diamonds at the location when they met their gruesome deaths. After the miners were killed, their bodies and belongings were burnt.
The next public hearing to be hosted by the commission is scheduled for Thursday, March 22nd.