Sun | Aug 20, 2017

JDF mortar officer dismisses claims by Tivoli residents

Published:Thursday | December 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett

The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) officer charged with supervising the use of mortars during the May 2010 operations in Tivoli Gardens has dismissed claims by residents that the explosives caused damage to several buildings in their community.

Major Warrenton Dixon, who served as the JDF's mortar control officer at the time, told the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry yesterday that the mortars used by the army were 81mm low-velocity rounds that are designed to self-destruct on impact with "any reasonably hard surface".

While conceding that the use of the explosives placed innocent residents at grave risk, Dixon said only two of the 37 mortars used in the operations were fired inside Tivoli Gardens. He testified that they were fired into a football field to the south of the community shortly after midday on May 24, 2010, but only one exploded.

Several residents of Tivoli Gardens testified before the commission that the "bombs" left large holes in a number of buildings. One resident recounted hearing the explosives "whistling" through a tree.

"It's not possible for the one round that exploded in Tivoli Gardens to create any crater in the road, blow holes in buildings or anything like that," Dixon testified.

"The mortar does not make any whistling sound. The mortar makes two loud bangs, one when it's leaving the barrel and 15 seconds later, when it hits the surface that it's fired at. If it's coming through a tree, you wont have time to hear anything, you wouldn't be here telling any stories," he continued.

"I found all the evidence I've seen [at the enquiry] extremely implausible," he added.

DISSUADING HUMAN SHIELDS

Like retired JDF Chief of Defence Staff Major Stewart Saunders, the former JDF mortar control officer insisted that the explosives were used to dissuade women and children from venturing outdoors to be used by gunmen as human shield, as well as to confuse armed thugs who were firing on members of the security forces.

Despite this, Dixon testified that it "was not lost on me" that the use of mortars posed a grave risk of endangering human lives.

"There are inherent risks in using the mortar system, as they are with using rifles. Mortar systems are far safer in a lot of ways than using rifles," he said.

"The mortars were, essentially, being fired over my head. I have sufficient confidence, not only in my own ability, but also in the abilities of the men under my command," he added.

Dixon said he took pride in the fact that no women or children were killed in the operation, which was aimed at capturing drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com