Sun | Apr 30, 2017

We requested a surveillance plane in Tivoli, Saunders contradicts Golding

Published:Tuesday | June 23, 2015 | 6:00 AMLivern Barrett
Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer Retired Major General Stewart Saunders, former chief of defence staff, testifies during yesterday's sitting of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

Retired army chief Stewart Saunders has contradicted former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, revealing yesterday that the Jamaican military did request a surveillance aircraft from United States authorities for use during the 2010 operations in Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston.

Saunders, who was testifying before the west Kingston commission of enquiry yesterday, also gave evidence that appears at odds with aspects of the testimony given by former prime minister Bruce Golding and his national security minister at the time, Dwight Nelson.

In February, Golding told the commission that he never requested an aeroplane.

Instead, the former prime minister testified that he asked US authorities to provide "satellite surveillance" over Tivoli Gardens after the operations started on May 24, 2010, and said he was surprised to learn that the plane was in the skies over the west Kingston community a day before the request was made.

Nelson echoed Golding's statement that there was no request for an aircraft when he took the witness stand days later and said he was not aware that his ministry, acting on behalf of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), requested technical assistance from the US Embassy in Kingston through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But testifying yesterday during cross-examination, Saunders, the former JDF chief of defence staff, said: "We made the request to be assisted by the US with surveillance resources in the form of an aircraft."

He added: "To allow us to be able to see what was obtaining on the ground, especially during the conduct of the operations. So that's how aircraft came to be operating in our airspace."

Arrived before the operation

Saunders underscored: "It arrived before the operation was launched ... and it operated during the course of the operation."

The retired army chief could not recall the date the request was made of US authorities, but said it was done through a letter that was sent to the Nelson-led national security ministry.

"It was subsequently confirmed that the resources would be allowed to operate in Jamaica," he testified during cross-examination by senior legal counsel to the commission, Garth McBean.

"The letter to the ministry [of national security] would have come from my headquarters under my instructions," he said.

"Would it be addressed to any particular person at the ministry?" McBean queried.

"It would have been addressed to either the minister himself or the permanent secretary. I can't remember exactly which one it was," Saunders replied.

The former army chief also confirmed that mortars were used during the operation and said it was entirely his decision.

Saunders said he "suspected" that former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington was aware of the planned use of mortars, but "I can't say that I personally briefed him".

"Can you recall if any person in the constabulary would have been briefed as to the use or mortars?" McBean questioned.

"Yes, the deputy commissioners who worked closely with the JDF in the planning phase. I suspect DCP [Clifford] Blake and one other would have been aware of it," he replied.

Saunders also confirmed that he authorised the use of masks by those JDF personnel who were tasked with the responsibility of apprehending drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke during the operations.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com