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Tivoli Commission closes door on future witness statements

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Major Garth Anderson, commander of the Second Battalion Jamaica Regiment, testifies in the west Kingston commission enquiry at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston yesterday.

Fresh witness statements collected on the weekend and submitted to the west Kingston commission of enquiry yesterday have raised concerns that the three-member panel is being "manipulated in a manner that is dangerous".

The statements came from residents of Tivoli Gardens and contained new accounts of alleged abuses committed by members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) during the May 2010 police-military operations in their west Kingston community to apprehend drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

Chairman of the commission, Sir David Simmons, conceded that the concerns "bear on the integrity of the proceedings" and ruled that no witness statement would be allowed after yesterday.

The Tivoli Committee, a group that represent residents of Tivoli Gardens, acknowledged that at least four of the statements were collected on Saturday - more than five years since the operation - and indicated that other residents wanted to come forward.

In one of the statements, a woman identified as Gloria Pitter claimed "Major Garth Anderson [a JDF commander during the operation] and other soldiers camped in my apartment for approximately seven days".

Cautioned against 'rebuttals'

But one of the attorneys for the JDF, Linton Gordon, took issue with the late submission of the statements and cautioned the Simmons-chaired commission against allowing persons to write "rebuttal, additional and varied" accounts after hearing the evidence from the televised enquiry.

"If the gate is left open indefinitely, persons will now come and say, 'I saw Major Anderson' and the persons is saying this the 27th [of June 2015] after he has given his evidence. Where was this person five years ago and how come he identified somebody five years ago and never said it?" Gordon questioned.

"There seems to be a puppet string that has been extended into this commission and it is being manipulated and being used in a way that is very dangerous," he said, before clarifying that he was not referring to the commissioners.

Attorney for the Tivoli Committee, Michael Williams, said he understood Gordon's concern, but indicated that the persons who gave the statements on Saturday would appear before the commission "and the probity of what they are saying can be tested under cross-examination".

But while acknowledging the view posited by the Office of the Public Defender that the conduct of the enquiry could be encouraging more persons to come forward, Simmons said, "The time has come when we must insist on a cut-off point.

"We cannot continue to have people coming forward as they choose in disregard of the rules and what the rules are designed to achieve. The rules are designed to achieve openness and transparency," Simmons underscored.

Anderson, who gave evidence yesterday, conceded that it would have been pertinent for him to know when and where mortar rounds were to be fired during the operations.

Former army chief Major General Stewart Saunders has already testified that the use of mortars was entirely his decision and revealed that a total of 37 were fired.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com