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TIVOLI REPORT: Mortar use reckless and wholly disproportionate

Published:Wednesday | June 15, 2016 | 5:29 PM

Livern Barrett, Senior Gleaner Writer

The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry has described as a serious error of judgement the army’s decision to fire mortar rounds inside Tivoli Gardens during the May 2010 operations.

The commission, chaired by retired Barbados Chief Justice David Simmons, said given the fact that Tivoli Gardens is a heavily-populated community, the use of the explosives was reckless and wholly disproportionate to the threats presented by criminal gunmen.

During the hearing, British mortar expert Major Chris Cobb-Smith has described as irresponsible and reckless the use of mortars in the heavily-populated community.

IN PHOTO: West Kingston Commission Chair Sir David Simmons

Despite reports by residents that bombs were fired in their community, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) initially insisted that no explosives were used in the operations, which were aimed at capturing then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

However, in his testimony before the commission, retired army chief Major General Stewart Saunders admitted that he authorised the use of mortars during the operations and that a total of 37 were fired into three open spaces in Tivoli Gardens.

Saunders and JDF mortar fire control officer Major Warrenton Dixon told the tribunal that the explosives were intended to keep women and children indoors and prevent armed thugs from using them as human shields.

IN PHOTO: Former army chief Major General Stewart Saunders

A report by the Office of the Public Defender found that 74 civilians and one member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were killed in the operations that were aimed at capturing drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.

However, in its 900-page report made public today, the three-member tribunal said it had concerns about the decision to use mortars.

While accepting that the mortars were targeted at open spaces, the Simmons commission said the areas chosen were heavily-populated and carried a great risk of injury or death to residents.

It noted that the target area was less than 550 metres from the nearest civilian buildings.

The commission pointed out that international guidelines call for a radial safety distance of 700 metres from residential dwellings and said this was never achieved in the Tivoli operations.

As a result, it found that some residents and properties in Tivoli Gardens were in danger.

The tribunal also indicated that it found it astonishing that former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington was never informed of the planned use of mortars.

IN PHOTO: Former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington

It said as a gold commander in an operation to be jointly executed by both branches of the security forces, simple courtesy demanded that Ellington should have been made privy to the information.

The commission also took issue with Saunders’ assertion that the mortars were intended to disorient gunmen and keep women and children indoors.

The three-member tribunal says it was not satisfied that such a reason was prominent in the thinking of the leadership of the JDF in 2010.