-lawyers appeal for key “witness’ to be called
The army was in receipt of information on the slaying of the eight miners at Lindo Creek five days before their burnt remains were found by the owner of the camp, the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the murders learnt yesterday.
Retired Colonel Fitzroy Ward, made the disclosure during his testimony before the CoI yesterday.
Ward had been the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) task force commander in the Joint Services team that was deployed to the Kwakwani area following a June 5th, 2008 encounter between police and members of the Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins gang, at Christmas Falls.
Ward related to the commission that on June 16th, 2008, when police apprehended then 15-year-old Fineman gang member Dwane Williams, he related details of criminal activity spearheaded by the gang, including alleged killings at Lindo Creek.
Ward said a truck driver had made a report to the Ituni Police Station after picking up a boy, who requested that he stop at a creek for a bath. According to Ward, when the boy, who had been carrying a blue tarpaulin over his shoulder, did not return with all the items, the man became suspicious. He gave a description of the boy and informed police that he had dropped him off at a shop.
The witness said Williams’ accounts matched the activities of the gang and were supported by the scene at Lindo Creek. “Here I refer to his account [that] Rondell Rawlins, after shooting one of the individuals at Lindo Creek, further dealt the individual a blow to his head using a hammer. The individual was said by Williams to have been alive and was crawling on the ground after being shot,” he stated.
Despite having taken a statement from Williams, Ward said he was never part of any GDF inquiry into the killings.
“Colonel, you know you’re under oath?” Patrice Henry, CoI Counsel confronted the witness.
“You told this commission today that Dwane Williams spoke to you at Ituni Police Station and told you that some miners were killed up at Lindo Creek, and this would have been on the 16th of June 2008?” Henry enquired.
Ward said he could not recall the date, but later accepted that Williams was arrested on June 16th, the same day of an incident at Goat Farm, where two of Rawlins’ gang members were killed. Williams was transported to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters, Georgetown later that same night.
“And you’re saying to this commission that on the 16th June, 2008, Dwane Williams told you that he and a gang just killed miners at Lindo Creek?” Henry questioned.
“Sir, I’d like to take out the word “just” killed miners… he did not specify, sir,” Ward responded.
“And you didn’t ask?” Henry pressed.
Ward related that the records of the statement made by Williams should be at the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Battalion, and he also admitted that those statements were not handed over to the police.
Asked if he had visited Lindo Creek, Ward related that they had made an attempt to locate the crime scene, but found no evidence of a crime having occurred when they got to the camp. He noted that the spot they would have visited was the location of the old mining camp. Ward said that it was approaching evening when they got there, and the helicopter had to be removed, and so the team had to leave. Captain Lloyd Souvenir and helicopter pilot Colonel Burns were among those who were said to have accompanied him. Ward said he could not remember the names of the other soldiers. He stated that Williams did not accompany them on the journey to the campsite.
Asked by Henry how he got directions to the campsite, he related that ranks had dropped one of the miners, Clifton Wong, to the campsite on an occasion before, after they learnt that he was an ex-army member, and so they knew the trail to the camp. He also said that there was someone from Georgetown with them that knew the location of the camp, but he could not recall the person’s name.
Asked what happened the next day, Ward said he could not recall the events that followed.
He also could not recall the date the visit to the old camp had occurred, but had earlier noted that he had departed Kwakwani on June 19th and returned June 21st. During that time, he would have attended a briefing involving the GDF Chief of Staff and the Commissioner of Police, where he reportedly related what was told to him by Williams.
Ward testified that the first time he heard of bodies being discovered was on June 22nd, the day the crime scene team traveled to the camp. He had not gone, but delegated staff to go.
When Commissioner Justice Donald Trotman later asked whether, in hindsight, he felt it was necessary to have visited the scene himself, Ward replied in the affirmative.
Ward, who later acknowledged that he was only a witness to the caution statement given by Williams at the Ituni Police Station, had stated that what was told to him by Williams was reminiscent of the scene at Lindo Creek and Christmas Falls, the latter of which he had visited a few days after the encounter. Ward took photos of the scene at Christmas Falls, but said that he had not visited the scene at Lindo Creek.
As it relates to Lindo Creek, Ward said Williams had told him that the day after they arrived at the Lindo Creek camp, Rawlins shot and killed the men. Williams reportedly said that one of the men was still alive after being shot and as a result Rawlins took a hammer and dealt him a blow to the head. He said this was consistent with damage seen in a skull retrieved from Lindo Creek by the crime scene team on June 22nd. Ward noted that he had seen the skull when the remains were taken to the airstrip.
However, in Williams’ alleged account of the killings to Superintendent Trevor Reid on July 4th, a somewhat detailed day-by-day recount of the gang’s activity, there was no mention of an incident involving a miner being hit to the head with a hammer.
Reid, who testified before the commission last week, had read a copy of a statement reportedly given to him by Williams, detailing the gang’s journey from Christmas Falls, over the Berbice River, and to the mining camp, where the miners were said to be killed some two days later.
“About 12 o’ clock time, me been sleeping and meh hear shot start buss. When meh look, meh see dem man wah dem tie up, dem shoot up dem man. Eight man been deh and all a dem geh shoot…Deh pull down deh blue tarpaulin from one of deh camp and Magic throw gasoline pon dem and light dem afire,” Williams reportedly told Reid.
There had been no mention of Fineman’s direct involvement, or of a hammer being used.
However, when Courtney Wong, the brother of deceased miner Clifton Wong, testified before the commission in March, he recalled finding a skull with a hole at the crime scene on June 22nd, 2008. He stated that they also found two hammers at the scene, one of which fit snugly into the hole of the skull.
Wong had been the person who led the joint services and accompanying team to Lindo Creek after the bodies were discovered.
In addition to Williams’ description of the Christmas Falls scene matching what Ward saw, another thing that indicated to Ward that there was legitimacy to what Williams had told him was the fact that the team was able to recover a gun near where he had been put off by the truck driver that day. The gun was reportedly wrapped in a blue tarp. The discovery, however, was not made until June 25th, after the remains of the miners were found. Questioned on this, Ward said that he had given the directive for the weapon to be recovered.
Colonel Souvenir had testified last week that he was a part of the team that recovered the weapon. Souvenir said that it was found along the trail between Goat Farm and Ituni, about 50 feet off the trail in the bushes, wrapped in a tarpaulin and buried in the ground. Like Ward, Souvenir had related that the weapon was an assemblage of various guns, including one taken from a GDF officer after he was slain in an ambush in Buxton.
“…All the information was given to you at the same date that Mr Williams was arrested. He told you about Christmas Falls, he told you about Lindo Creek, he told you about the weapon and notwithstanding you being armed with all this information, you were able to only discover or cause the site to be discovered the 22nd of June and the weapon to be discovered on the 25th of June, sometime long after this information was given to you,” Henry noted.
As to other reports made surrounding the incident, Ward denied receiving any information that a young Amerindian miner made claims that camp members at Lindo Creek were killed by Joint Services members. He also said he was unfamiliar with Yvonne Torres, who stated that Joint Services members had told her they burnt a camp, and consequently denied being aware that the claims being made by Leonard Arokium against the Joint Services came from those sources.
Rodwell Sarrabo, an investigator of the Lindo Creek killings who had been present when Williams was brought to the CID on the night of June 16th, from the Ituni Police Station, was also called to testify yesterday.
Sarrabo, now a Detective Sergeant of Police, related that Williams was interviewed in relation to the killings at Lusignan and Bartica, and submitted statements to the police. He said no mention was made of Lindo Creek, and he was given no indication of a caution statement being given by Williams to Ward and police ranks at Ituni.
He stated that the first he learnt of the Lindo Creek murders being investigated by the unit was on June 21st, the day the bodies were reportedly discovered.
Sarrabo was also one of the witnesses present when Reid took a statement from Williams on July 4th. The detective related that although Williams’ parents were contacted, the boy had asked that they not be present while he made his statements.
Leslie Sobers, one of the attorneys representing the GDF, yesterday renewed his application for Williams to be brought before the commission to give evidence. He suggested that the tribunal could facilitate a Skype call, which would eliminate the need for Williams, who has been in protective custody for the past decade, having his location compromised.
Justice Trotman said that it would be a matter for the police, prompting attorney Roysdale Forde, who also represents the GDF, to plead with the commission and urge that it use its status as a High Court to direct the police to make the consideration.
“…At this stage of the matter your honour, Dwane Williams is available… he is key and central to the fundamental question that the commission has to answer. We’re being given statements made by Dwane Williams 10 years ago. We have witnesses whose credibility is being questioned by all sort of means and who’s going to be portrayed in the newspaper as liars…and the key person, who from the mouth of the policeman (Sarrabo) in his respectful opinion is the person who would have done the crime or was part of a group that done the crime, and he is available,” he said.
“I understand your concern to get all the documents that you wish your honour, but what greater evidence can you get, can come before this commission, in all fairness…this is not representing the Guyana Defence Force, this is a citizen of this republic. Which other person is alive today who could come before this commission and say what he wants to say? If he wants to come and say the Guyana Defence Force did it, he is free to say it. But if he says that he did it and Fineman did it, it has to be brought before the commission. It can’t be left to speculate and for us to come to a conclusion, as I’ve pointed out in the cross-examination, that that statement that he gave then is all that he knew and all that he wanted to say,” Forde opined.
Justice Trotman indicated that he would consider the application.
The CoI hearing was adjourned until today, when Detective Sarrabo will be recalled to continue his testimony.