Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Tivoli was armed for war

Published:Friday | February 20, 2015 | 12:01 AMLivern Barrett
Retired Commissioner of Police, Owen Ellington, testifying before the west Kingston Commission of Enquiry at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, yesterday.

ARMED WITH never-before-seen video footage and photographs, retired Police Commissioner Owen Ellington yesterday recounted how thugs carrying high-powered weapons, night-vision goggles and clad in ballistics vests similar to those used by the police took over the west Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens in the days leading up to the 2010 police-military operations.

Ellington, who was giving evidence before the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, recalled how thugs sympathetic to drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke barricaded the community with "booby traps" designed to cause mass killings, and used sand bags to fortify positions from where they could fire at members of the security forces.

In addition, the retired police chief revealed that AK-47 rifles and a number of 50-calibre rifles capable of taking down aircraft and buildings were among the arsenal of weapons available to the hundreds of thugs who had gathered in Tivoli Gardens to "violently repel" the efforts of the security forces to apprehend Coke.

He was giving evidence about the tensions that gripped sections of the Corporate Area and St Catherine in May 2010 after then Prime Minister Bruce Golding used a nationwide broadcast to announce that he had given Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne the authority to proceed with an extradition request for Coke.

Ellington testified that in the aftermath of Golding's May 17 announcement, intelligence gathered by the security forces indicated that law-abiding citizens in Coke's Tivoli Gardens stronghold were being held hostage in their homes and recalled that law-enforcement authorities had information that there were plans to start killing them.

In one of the videos shown to the three-member commission chaired by former Barbados Chief Justice Sir David Simmons, two young men were seen stockpiling sandbags on the balcony of a dwelling house, oblivious to the female occupant and her child.

One of the men was seen in the video pointing a rifle over the sandbags while the man peered through a pair of night-vision goggles, which Ellington said he was doing so he could alert his crony to where members of the security forces were positioned.

GAS CYLINDERS AMONG RUBBLE

He also provided photographs showing gas cylinders strewn among the rubble used to block several roadways leading into the west Kingston community.

"They used solid materials like old motor vehicle parts, old appliances, sand bags and propane gas cylinders, which were booby-trapped. They bought construction steel materials and chopped them up into small pieces to be used a shrapnel," Ellington told the commission.

"Barricading close to 10,000 innocent civilians in a community with all of those explosives, with tyres put in strategic positions all around the community and with the intent, it seems, to set them on fire and to set off explosives, there would be thousands of civilian lives at grave risk of being injured," he added.

He told the commission that what the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) saw throughout Tivoli Gardens was enough for him, in consultation with then army chief Major General Stewart Saunders, to brief the Government on the escalating threat to the State and request emergency powers.

"This would enable the JDF [Jamaica Defence Force] to take the lead on certain aspects of the operation Ö to disarm the explosives and create a safe haven for the continued execution of our (JCF) operations," he said, as he sought to explain the reason for the limited state of emergency that was implemented across the Corporate Area at the time.

Ellington testified that at the end of the three-day operation, 115 firearms, including five 50-calibre rifles, and close to 30,000 assorted rounds of ammunition were seized by the security forces.

He told the commission that despite 14 coordinated attacks on JCF personnel and assets across the Corporate Area and St Catherine, the police did all it could to avert an all-out confrontation with Coke's loyalists.

According to him, three members of the JCF were killed in the days leading up to the operations, including a policeman who was held in Tivoli Gardens and ordered to dig his grave before being shot in the head.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com