By Latoya Giles
Former Officer in Charge of the Special Branch unit of the Guyana Police Force, and now Crime Chief Leslie James, yesterday said that he was unable to locate several files which had covered developments that attracted police attention on and leading up to the death of Walter Rodney.
James told the Commissioners that he could not say whether the files are “lost” or have been “misplaced”.
James was the first witness to be called as the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry commenced yesterday. The Crime Chief explained that the Special Branch unit usually deals with matters of national interest, such as treason, sedition and murder. He added that reports which are generated by the department would be filed and kept by the Head.
“A request was made to have the documents presented to the commission; I complied with that and lay over the files” James said. He explained that files from both the Special Branch along with the Criminal Investigations Department were handed over.
James submitted three documents from the Special Branch on Rodney labeled ‘WPA eight, nine and ten’ respectively to the Commission of Inquiry.
An additional three files from CID along with an arrest warrant that was issued in June 1996 for Gregory Smith in relation to Rodney’s death was handed over to the commission. They were later tendered into evidence. James explained that all files which are being submitted have been duplicated.
James, during the testimony, told the Commission that he could not find the other seven files. He said that they had to have existed since the numbering was done in sequence from one to ten.
Chairman of the Commission, Sir Richard Cheltenham, questioned James about whether he could say where the missing files could be. And according to the witness they may very well be lost. James said that all files from the Special Branch unit are stored internally and it was unlikely that the files could be in the National Archives.
The Chairman stressed that the files should be found or at least a good reason should be provided for their disappearance. All police files submitted were for the year of Rodney’s death – 1980.
James told the Commission that in the files there are a Coroner’s report from then Government Pathologist Leslie Mootoo. According to James, two other reports from Foreign Experts Hugh Johnson and Frank Skuse were also included in the file.
James told the commission that the cause of Rodney’s death was given as “shock and hemorrhage, multiple injuries to the legs and abdomen due to an explosion,” James said.
The Crime Chief explained that in the Skuse report, it was noted that Rodney was sitting in his vehicle with a parcel on his knees. That parcel contained a wooden box, receiver systems, and TNT explosive. According to Skuse’s findings the TNT explosive in that time was for military purposes. James further noted that the radio was not used by the Guyana Defence Force or the Police.
James was further questioned about when did the police actually finger the now dead Gregory Smith in the death of Rodney. According to James it was just before June 1996. James was asked by Commissioner Seerath Jairam why the police had taken almost 16 years to indicate that Smith should be charged.
The witness said that he could not say why they took so long but several checks were made to locate Smith.
Jairam asked, further, whether there was sufficient evidence in the file that could institute a charge against Smith before locating him. According to James there was “reasonable” evidence in the file.
James was then asked if it wasn’t customary to get advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions and he said that was done. The then DPP is now Chief Justice Ian Chang (Ag).
The witness was asked if when an “unnatural death” occurs, whether an inquest is ordered. James said that an inquest was done but it was not completed. James was asked by the Commission to make another check to see if he could locate any of the missing files and report back.
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