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Out of the loop - retired JDF officer claims he wasn't told about plan to use mortars

Published:Wednesday | June 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Sewell testifies during yesterday's sitting of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

A retired Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) officer who commanded more than 500 military and police personnel during the May 2010 operations in Tivoli Gardens has indicated that he was out of the loop on a number of issues related to the operations.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Sewell told the West Kingston Commis-sion of Enquiry yesterday that he never saw the operational plan crafted by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and code-named 'Key West' and that he was not informed by the army, before hand, of the planned use of mortars.

Retired Major General Stewart Saunders, retired JDF chief of defence staff, has already given evidence that he did not see the JCF operational plan, which was drafted in January 2010, and former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington has testified that he never saw the operational plan crafted by the JDF and code named 'Garden Parish'.

But testifying during cross-examination by attorney-at-law Lord Anthony Gifford, who is representing the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), Sewell maintained that it would not be accurate to say there was not enough communication between both forces.

"In the course of the planning, at any time before the 24th of May [2010], did you see this document?" Gifford asked, making reference to the JCF plan.

"No, sir," the former army officer replied.

"It seems to me that the JDF has one plan under one name, (and) the JCF has one plan under another name, which you never saw and the general [Saunders] never saw ... . Were you really talking to each other?" Gifford pressed.

"Yes, sir. In my case, I spoke with the counterpart I worked with at the [police] Mobile Reserve [Division] at least four times a week, sir," Sewell responded.

loud explosions

The retired lieutenant colonel also testified that he learnt of the use of mortars while he and the 550 men and women under his command were already inside Tivoli Gardens to help with the arrest of drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

During earlier cross-examination by senior legal counsel to the commission, Sewell revealed that it was the sound of "loud explosions" in a section of the west Kingston community that alerted him to the use of mortars.

"When did you become aware of that (the use of mortars)?" asked McBean.

"During the operation," Sewell replied.

"How did you become aware of that?" McBean pressed.

"I heard loud explosions, exceedingly loud explosions," Sewell again replied.

"They appeared to have been coming from several areas, including within Tivoli (Gardens)," he continued.

Saunders testified on Monday that the use of mortars was entirely his decision and said only persons who needed to know were told. He said a total of 37 mortar rounds were fired into three open spaces in Tivoli Gardens and insisted that it was done under what he described as observed and controlled conditions.

Responding to a question from McBean, Sewell maintained that the former army chief had no duty to inform him of the use of mortars and insisted that himself and the men and women under his command were not at risk because of it.

"I do not think it would have been the purview of the then chief of defence staff to have put his men at risk," he testified.

Sewell will continue giving evidence when the hearing resumes today.