Thu | Sep 21, 2017

West Kingston Enquiry: Mortar use was inappropriate and disproportionate - McBean

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2016 | 2:26 PM

Livern Barrett, Senior Gleaner Writer

Senior Counsel to the west Kingston commission of enquiry Garth McBean has asserted that the use of mortars during the May 2010 police-military operations in Tivoli Gardens was inappropriate and disproportionate.

McBean cited a raft of factors to justify his assertion, chief of which was what he described as the undisputed evidence that mortars were fired into heavily populated and built-up areas in the west Kingston community.

"There was lack of prior experience of the mortar firers and the mortar fire control officer for firing rounds into built-up areas like the Tivoli Gardens area," he argued as the three-member tribunal began hearing submissions today.

McBean noted, also, that there was no dispute that a mortar is an aerial weapon and that it was not a pinpoint system that would land on specific targets.

"There is the possibility of change in the meteorological conditions such as the wind. I think the evidence indicates that when it goes high up there can be a change in the wind conditions," he said.

Retired Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Chief of Defence Staff Major General Stewart Saunders had testified that he authorised the use of mortars during the operation and that a total of 37 were fired into three open spaces in the west Kingston community.

Stewart said the planned use of mortars was only shared on a need-to-know basis and indicated that the objective was to disorientate armed thugs who were firing at members of the security forces as well as to keep women and children indoors and out of harms way.

However, citing the testimony of then Police Commissioner Owen Ellington and other members of the Police High Command that they were not aware of the planned use of mortars, McBean questioned whether members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) in the area of operation were not placed at risk.

"I wondered, in making this submission, whether the aim of confusing the gunmen might have had the same effect on some members of the JCF. Clearly, if that was the objective, we wonder about that," he argued.

McBean’s deputy, Simone Mayhew, in her submissions, suggested that there may be a prima facie case of extra-judicial killings during the operations.

Citing what she described as unchallenged evidence from several residents in the west Kingston community, Mayhew suggested that some of the killings "should be the subject of further investigations."

Among the testimonies cited by Mayhew was the shooting death of brothers Fabian and Fernando Grant. 

Their mother, Majorie Williams, testified that she peeped through a bedroom window to see her sons kneeling in a neighbour's garden with masked policemen standing behind them.

Williams testified that she heard loud explosions before Fernando called out for her, reporting that his brother had been killed.

She said moments later she heard her youngest son cry out again before another round of explosions.

Post mortem reports revealed that Fabian sustained six gunshot wounds to the abdomen and had "a barrage of stone-like material to the left knee" while Fernando was shot three times and died within three minutes.

Mayhew said it was "worrying" the number of deaths reported to have taken place along Dee Cee Avenue in Tivoli Gardens on May 25, 2010, a day after the operations began and while the security forces had control of the area.

She argued that Williams’ testimony was supported, in parts, by at least two other residents and described it as worrying that the security forces had not offered a contrary account of how persons were killed during the operation.

Attorney for the Tivoli Committee, Michael Williams today began his submission and will continue tomorrow.