Linden killings… AFC member fears implicated ranks may have handled evidence at scene
“If the ballistic evidence has been handed over to the police under the command of one of the principal suspects, then the integrity of the evidence was in serious jeopardy. In local terms, we asking the cat to watch the milk and expect it to be there when we are ready for it…” – Nigel Hughes
By Michael Jordan
Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes said yesterday that any investigation into the Linden killings may already have been compromised if the incriminated ranks also collected forensic evidence from the scene.
He likened this to “asking the cat to watch the milk,” while repeating calls by his party, the Alliance for Change (AFC) for “a credible, uncompromised, independent forensic investigation of the homicides.”
“We have no doubt that the weapons used on Wednesday would have had to have been lodged…and hands should have been swabbed to confirm who fired weapons on the day,” Hughes said in a statement released to Kaieteur News.
“If the ballistic evidence has been handed over to the police in Linden under the Command of the one of the principal suspects then the integrity of the evidence was in serious jeopardy. In other words, the prime suspects would have been handed the evidence which incriminated them in the crime, to keep and preserve for a trial which could result in their conviction. In local terms, we are asking the cat to watch the milk and expect it to be there when we are ready for it.”
Police officials have been mum on whether policemen who were at the scene handed over their weapons to ascertain which ranks fired the deadly volley. It is also unclear whether their hands were swabbed for traces of gunpowder, or whether Crime Scene ranks travelled to Linden to retrieve spent shells and other evidence.
Hughes is concerned that some of the evidence might be compromised long before August 2, the date that a Commission of Inquiry is to be established to investigate the shootings.
The AFC believes that a preliminary investigation with international participants should precede the Commission of Inquiry to which both A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Government have agreed. Hughes has already sought the services of an international forensics expert to assist on behalf of the families of the victims.
Commissioner of Police (ag) Leroy Brumell told journalists yesterday that the post mortem examinations will be done today and that his ranks would contact relatives of the slain men. However, up to 18:00 hrs yesterday relatives of the victims said that no one had contacted them.
A retired police official had explained that while family members are allowed to view bodies for identification purposes, the pathologist decides who is allowed to view the post mortem.
“If the services of international forensic experts were immediately engaged then the chances of a credible investigation would have been increased,” Hughes said in his statement.
“Waiting until the victims have been buried, or worse, after the 2nd August 2012 to conduct any form of international forensic investigations is of marginal value.
It is also an insult to the cries for justice by the families of the victims of the shooting.
It is also an accepted scientific fact that the closer the recording of the statements of eye witnesses to an event the more likely the accuracy of their recollections. Attempting to take statements from eyewitnesses after they have discussed the incident with other persons who were present, is more likely to influence the accuracy of their recollection.
“It is a fact that the further away from an incident one goes the more likely the chances are that the available evidence will be compromised.”
According to Hughes, there has been “much talk” about the AFC’s position on making an international inquiry a precondition of any investigation into the shootings. According to the AFC member, some have seen the AFC’s stance as “one of grandstanding by the party and/or trying to outdo APNU in Linden.”
Hughes stated that there are two aspects to any inquiry into the Linden tragedy.
“First and foremost, there should be a credible, uncompromised, independent forensic investigation of the homicides.”
According to Hughes, there is no suggestion that anybody other than the Guyana Police Force had fired weapons on Wednesday last, “so there can be no dispute about who fired.”
“The ballistics evidence which would be available on the spent shells, warheads and other fragments recovered from the bodies of the dead and wounded would indicate who fired the weapons which resulted in the death or injury to the victim. (This is) A most critical piece of evidence,” Hughes said.
He added that police records should indicate the identity of the ranks who had the weapons which fired the bullets that killed and wounded the victims.
“The preservation of critical evidence recovered from the bodies of the wounded prior to death and its isolation from possible contamination is of critical importance.”
The Attorney noted that four years after international assistance was offered and refused in the Lindo Creek massacre, “we learnt last week of the police handing over the remains to the families of the deceased without any conclusion to the investigation.
“It is interesting that the same officer who headed the police party in the Lindo Creek incident was in command of the policemen last Wednesday.”
Hughes said that the second aspect of AFC’s request for an international inquiry will address the circumstances which resulted in the deaths of the Lindeners and the subsequent burning of property. Asked Saturday about his views on the police ranks handling forensic evidence in a case that implicates their colleagues, Opposition Leader Brigadier (rtd) David Granger said that such evidence gathering is the responsibility of the police.
“The police have certain responsibilities. I don’t know if it is possible for any agency to replace the police. I know that the warheads were removed and are in possession of the hospital authorities.
I don’t foresee that there will be a massive cover-up. I think that the nurses and others are prepared to give evidence.” Granger also revealed that he has asked residents to gather photographic evidence from the day of the tragedy.
“As far as the actual crime scene is concerned, the police have to do that (collect evidence).”
However, Granger stated that the crime scene has already been “contaminated”, since he has seen photographs in the media of civilians with warheads that were allegedly retrieved from the scene of the shootings.
And explaining why the AFC wants a fully international commission of inquiry,
Hughes said that Guyana is a small community “and the chances of finding a Commissioner who will not be the subject of suspicions from one side or the other before the Commission is constituted are slim.”
“The possibility of protracted arguments over the eligibility of persons to sit on the Commission is real and significant. This places the acceptance of the results of any such Commission in jeopardy long before the inquiry even begins.
A Commission consisting only of international Commissioners under the auspices of a credible international body mitigates the arguments about local bias and interest in the outcome of the investigation.