Former army chief heard 'Dudus' was at gov't house
Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
RETIRED ARMY chief Major General Stewart Saunders has revealed that he got reports that during the 2010 nationwide manhunt, then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke had "found safe haven in a government house in St Ann".
The revelation is included in Saunders' witness statement to the commission, which attorney-at-law Lord Anthony Gifford cited yesterday during his cross-examination of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
However, Gifford, who is the lead attorney for the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), said the statement gave no indication when Saunders got those reports.
"I intend to ask General Saunders when it is that he received the report. I only go by his statement at paragraph 29, which says he received those reports," the attorney indicated.
The retired chief of defence staff is scheduled to give evidence before the commission some time next week.
But making reference to the Saunders' witness statement, Gifford sought to find out whether the former prime minister knew of Coke's movements after the now convicted drug kingpin managed to elude the security forces when they entered his Tivoli Gardens stronghold to arrest him on an extradition warrant.
"Have you any knowledge, Mr Golding, that while Dudus Coke was on the run, … he found a safe haven in a government house in the hills of St Ann?" the lead attorney for the OPD questioned.
"No, sir. None of the reports that were submitted [to me] by either branch of the security forces indicated that," Golding responded emphatically.
"So the parish of St Ann was not reported to you by General Saunders as where he (Coke) was thought to have gone?" Gifford pressed.
"No, sir. No, sir. Not in any of the reports I got, which are now in the hands of the commission," Golding replied.
An interim report by the OPD concluded that during the police-military operation in the west Kingston community, 76 civilians and one member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were killed. The commission is examining, among other things, the conduct of the security forces during the operations.
Responding to questions from Gifford, Golding admitted that subsequent to the operations in Tivoli Gardens, the security forces informed him that Coke had escaped through Hannah Town.
"And had ultimately gone to St Ann?" Gifford questioned.
"No, that report [from the security forces] did not indicate his destination," Golding replied.
But Gifford pressed further.
ESCAPED THROUGH HANNAH TOWN
"You were told that he escaped through Hannah Town … . Were you then told that he had gone through lower St Andrew, upper St Andrew to St Mary and, ultimately, St Ann?" the attorney for the OPD pressed.
"No, sir. I was basically told - and I think this report came from the JDF - that he escaped on a route that took him through Hannah Town," Golding said, before Gifford again advised him that the information was contained in General Saunders' statement.
Responding to another question from the OPD attorney, Golding conceded that his broadcast to the nation, in which he announced that he had given then Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne the authority to proceed with the extradition request for Coke, could have been seen as "alerting Coke to the news that his arrest was imminent".
"But it must be taken into account that the existence of the request had, for a long time before that, been public knowledge," the former prime minister explained.
Former national security minister Dwight Nelson will continue giving evidence when the enquiry resume today.