-says killings may have occurred earlier than believed
Relatives of the victims of the Lindo Creek massacre were “outraged” that the Guyana Police Force (GPF) appeared to have more interest in identifying the bodies, than conducting an actual investigation, attorney Nigel Hughes testified yesterday.
Hughes, who represents the relatives of the eight miners murdered at a Lindo Creek mining camp in 2008, appeared yesterday before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) set up by the government to investigate their deaths, where he stated that it appeared that the police had “abandoned” the investigation.
Since the discovery of the remains of Cecil Arokium, Dax Arokium, Horace Drakes, Bonny Harry, Lancelot Lee, Compton Speirs, Nigel Torres and Clifton Wong by owner of the mining camp Leonard Arokium on June 21st, 2008, there have been claims by family members that the Joint Services had a hand in the deaths of the men.
Aside from Hughes’ observation that the former Commissioner of Police Henry Greene appeared to have been delaying the investigation, other major pieces of evidence that came out of yesterday’s proceedings was a suggestion that the “black clothes police” had some involvement in the crime; that the now deceased Uree Varswyck was a part of the Joint Services team that went into Lindo Creek; and that the miners may have been killed earlier than had been previously reported.
It was previously reported that earlier that month, on June 6th, 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, called ‘Mud Up,’ was killed.
Hughes related that in September 2008, after several correspondences had been exchanged between himself and Greene, he had had cause to write to the Commissioner highlighting the concerns of the family members.
“…there was a very pesky exchange between myself and Commissioner Greene in which I indicated to the Commissioner that we had virtually lost confidence in the ability of the Guyana Police Force to conduct a fair investigation or any investigation with credit at all…I had indicated to him that we, since the end of June to early July, had offered these services and now it appeared as if he had deliberately delayed an investigation and we expressed those sentiments, and he responded in, I would say, a similar tone,” Hughes stated.
Hughes shared that numerous attempts were made by him on behalf of the relatives to secure experts from the Forensic Science Service (FSS), a United Kingdom-based company in the weeks following the discovery of the remains.
Hughes said that the major concern was that with each day that passed, the crime scene was being degraded and open to contamination, jeopardizing the integrity of an independent investigation.
He recalled writing to Greene, first on June 30, 2008, informing him of the availability of those experts. He reported receiving a response the next day, acknowledging receipt of same.
That first letter Hughes sent had also been carbon copied to the Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force Gary Best, as the joint services were being accused of having some involvement in the deaths of the men.
Hughes stated that the same day Greene replied, he learnt that the government was seeking to procure the services of a United States forensics company, and so once again, he wrote to the Commissioner, this time relaying all the relevant information for securing the services of those at the FSS, who had been conducting investigations in Trinidad at the time.
That letter too was copied to Best, as well as the British High Commissioner and the Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee.
The US team was never procured, and most notably, it was years before tests confirmed that the remains of the miners had been identified.
Hughes related that they had even begun raising funds to bring in the experts but said they would have still needed the permission of the police before work could be conducted.
Hughes yesterday produced to the commission the phone records of Dax Arokium, whose cellphone relatives found out was being used after his death.
The lawyer stated that the documents showed calls being made from as early as August 18 to as late as August 25, 2008, with some calls lasting nearly as long as three minutes.
Hughes recalled calling some of numbers himself but said he suspected that the calls were terminated after he failed to provide a satisfactory response to the questions posed by the persons on the other end.
He stated that Greene had denied that the police were aware of the phone number, but said he informed the Commissioner that his information was incorrect, as Mr Arokium had given that information to police when they visited his residence.
Reports have suggested that the eight miners were killed sometime between June 9th and 10th, 2008, but Hughes believes, based on the testimonies of clients, that the men may have died as early as June 7th.
Hughes testified yesterday that Yonnette Torres, mother of Nigel Torres, was reported to have seen Dax Arokium in the backdam, on June 5.
In a statement given to him by Torres, which was read by Hughes during the hearing yesterday, the woman related that she asked Dax Arokium whether he knew the joint services were in the area and asked that he warn her son to be careful.
Later that week, she recounted seeing a mechanic that worked with them at the camp and he said he assured her that her son was okay, she would see him again that same week.
“…On father’s day, the joint forces came down the river, ie, the black clothes, I went and I spoke to one of them. I told him I have a son in the backdam and he said with his face very suspicious that there was no one in the backdam. He then told me that they have “boomed” the backdam, ie, they destroyed everything in the backdam. The next day, my sister called and asked when last I had seen my son….I told her I didn’t know and I was beginning to worry. She then told me that I should ask around because she had heard that the joint services had shot some boys down in the backdam,” Hughes read from the statement.
She had further stated that she later learned that her son had died and that “Mr Rookie” (Arokium) had gone into the backdam and found “nothing but bones”.
Another client, who had reportedly worked as a guard along the checkpoint of the UNAMCO road (he was named but Hughes stated that the man had refused to sign his statement because he was fearful for his life), had reportedly told Hughes of an encounter with the police on June 7, when he and another were picked up.
The man, according to the attorney, stated that the police had searched their camp that day, found narcotics, and picked them up and taken them to Christmas Falls, where they were instructed to clean the area.
“While they were at Christmas Falls they heard gunshots but they weren’t from that group of police that had taken them, they were from somewhere else,” Hughes related, noting that Lindo Creek is only located some miles away from the falls.
The men were left there and so had to walk back to their location. The man told Hughes that when he got back later that night, he received a call that the men at Lindo Creek had been killed.
“So if you marry that information with that from Ms Torres, who saw Dax Arokium on the 5th, it seems to suggest that this event took place sometime between the 5th and the evening of the 7th,” Hughes concluded.
Torres reported that there had been a heavy police presence in the area for that week, including helicopters patrolling and fuel being transported in and out of the backdam, which would make it unlikely for the Fine Man gang to have burnt the bodies without the joint services being aware.
Of note, is that the Head of the Office for Professional Responsibility Heeralall Mackhanlall had told the commission that Arokium reported being told by Torres of the Joint Services’ involvement, but Mackhanlall said that when he confronted her during his investigations, she denied it.
Hughes said repeatedly yesterday that there was distrust of the Joint Services, noting that that was the reason Arokium had gone to the media before the police and why an independent investigation was warranted.
Information reaching Hughes is that Varswyck, the former police officer who was killed last September after breaking out of the Camp Street Prison and evading the police for more than a month, was a part of the Joint Services team that traveled to Lindo Creek.
He testified that Varswyck was said to have worked under an officer who is still a serving member of the police force, but whose name Hughes would not relay in fear that exposure would make him a target. Hughes made reference to the fate of a former client, George Bacchus, who was gunned down, after implicating a member of the force.
Also testifying yesterday was retired Assistant Commissioner Winston Cosbert, who served as Assistant Commissioner of Police in 2012, when he was asked to make contact with the families of the deceased to make arrangements for burial.
The public hearings of the commission are on hold under further notice.