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Dead end for some autopsies

Published:Tuesday | June 15, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

Jamaicans might never learn the truth about how dozens of civilians were killed in west Kingston during last month's massive operation by the security forces. Despite a pledge by the Government that it would allow open and transparent post-mortems on the bodies, gaping holes are already beginning to appear in that vow.

Although the Government reported that post-mortems were slated to begin today at the Spanish Town Hospital morgue, The Gleaner has confirmed that autopsies have already been completed, without oversight from an independent pathologist, on 18 of the bodies. A further seven bodies were in such an advanced state of decomposition that post-mortems were deemed impossible.

Also, only one leading international forensic pathologist retained by the Office of the Public Defender will be on hand to observe on behalf of the families of the victims.

That is because government officials initially claimed that only one post-mortem could be done at a time, so there was no need for an extensive team. Yesterday, officials indicated that a second system would be in place by the end of this week, allowing for another independent observer pathologist.

Canadian in town

But the turn of events means that the member of the Royal College of Pathologists and the chief forensic pathologist at the Ontario Forensic Pathologist Services in Canada, Dr Michael Pollanen, who has arrived in the island to observe the proceedings, will not be able to assist the families of at least 25 of the victims.

In the meantime, an international ballistics expert who arrived in the island to begin work on June 8 has been sent home after investigators indicated to international donor agencies that his services would not be needed for two months.

"In light of the high cost of this expertise that was going unused, the consultant was released," a reliable source told The Gleaner yesterday.

And Public Defender Earl Witter said: "The Office of the Public Defender is eternally grateful to the donor community ... but it is not necessary to have more than one observer pathologist at any one time," he said.

It was initially reported that 73 civilians died during at least three days of firefights, but recent reports suggest that at least four of the persons were killed by thugs before the security forces launched their offensive on May 24.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com